I know this is going to sound ridiculous. But, one of the most instructive church planting experiences you can have is to birth a child while you are birthing your new church start. Ridiculous I know and I am not suggesting “planned parenthood” in the service of planting the church. However, in my case it simply happened that way. My wife and I arrived in town in June, launched the church in December and adopted a beautiful baby girl in April. There were a lot of firsts happening for us at the same time, but we began to see a lot of parallels between both things we were doing. And although we missed the gestation period of the baby, there were many things to be learned by comparison.
When our daughter was a newborn, she was cute and cuddly and brought us great joy! She also kept us up all night, couldn’t do very many things for herself, and sometimes made big stinking messes. However, even though the moments of joy and laughter did not make the difficulties go away it made them seem small in comparison. Lesson 1: Exhaustion, lack of sleep and big messes are part of the church planting experience; don’t be surprised by them. Know that the joy and laughter experiences will keep you going.
When our daughter became a toddler she was able to do a few more things for herself, but that added to the complexities of parenting. Which foods did she like? Which were best for her? How much activity and how much rest were required? What do we do about the selfish side that we are beginning to see? What happens when the terrible twos extend into the terrible threes? She was still fun and exciting and it was rewarding to see her personality emerging but we were more exhausted at this stage of parenting than at the last one because she was mobile! Lesson 2: With a little growth comes a lot of complexity. When you go mobile or when you simply have a lot of moving pieces it increases the difficulties. Find other planters who will assure you that you are not crazy. It is happening to them too!
Then there was adolescence—a period in which our daughter was largely self-sufficient. We didn’t have to bathe her anymore, or feed her anymore. Tasks that she had been largely reliant on us for in all the years prior to this season, she could now do very easily on her own—BUT—the new lists of tasks and roles were much more complicated and as her parents we didn’t always feel prepared to help navigate them. Adolescence was a season of identity discovery. Who am I and, what is my role in the world? What will I be known by and what will I give my time too? With all the competing demands from my friends and peers what will I say “yes” too and what will I say “no” too? How will I manage my resources of time, energy, and ideas? There was too much movement and too many decision for us as parents to make the decisions—we were trying to equip her with decision making tools. Lesson 3: Ingrain the vision and values and help make decisions from this solid foundation. By giving your child and your church decision making tools rather than an actual decision they learn to make choices without you that are aligned with your heart.
Now we are in the teenage years—our daughter and our church are sixteen years old. We have worked hard with both on identity and decisions and a picture of who we want them both to be. This is a season of differentiation. This is the hardest season for a church planter and a parent because if you have done your job—neither your church, nor your child need you very much. You still have a role and it is an important role—it just isn’t an irreplaceable role. If the goal of parenting is to raise healthy, self-aware children, who find their identity in Christ and work for his mission in the world, then the goal of planting a church is no different. There should come a time when neither our children nor our church need us. This frees us for new roles and new explorations of what it means to lead in the work of the Kingdom of Christ. I believe this is the season in which God gives us new eyes for our next work. That next work may be an extension of the current work or it may be something altogether different. At The Orchard it was and is the work of planting sites—we keep having children! And hopefully, we get better at parenting with each successive child. Lesson 4: New next things come when we have done the work well.
There are many ways to think organizationally and strategically about your church plant. There are plenty of metaphors, but the one that was most instructive for my wife and me was birthing a baby while birthing a church. Even if you don’t have a baby, I encourage you to think of your new church in terms the stages of human development. They mirror each other and we can learn a lot about both.
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