Gotham First Sunday

The first Sunday we met as a church planting core team.

It’s been over nine months since we pulled the plug on Recom. Since then, everything has changed. If I was a woman, I could have had a baby in this time. I’m not and I didn’t, so that didn’t change, but everything else has, and a lot of that change is because of the end of Recom.

One thing that we (Scotty – co-pastor and I) did after we ended the church planting adventure was to sit down and debrief what actually happened, and what we felt went wrong. Of course in any pursuit as spiritualised as church planting it’s hard to think in terms of things going wrong if you’re trusting that God is in charge. So we tried to view things from the purely human perspective. Where did we go wrong? If we were going to do it all again, what would we do to make sure we succeeded where we failed.

The answer we came up with is perhaps quite unique to our situation. But there might be some lessons that are useful for other ministry endeavors.

As many of you would know our plan for the church plant was to have a church with three pastors, each with equal authority and differing responsibilities. The idea was to value the biblical principle of plurality of leadership as well as maintaining a cohesive vision. We felt that having three pastors would allow us to have a more well rounded leadership team, a church that wasn’t reliant on any one person but without many of the burdens of an entirely congregationally led church.

The Tripastorate (as we came to call it) was central to our church structure so it was my plan to get the three pastors in place before we proceeded with planting the church. In the early days I approached a bunch of people who I thought would make good pastors, they were all interested and polite but they all turned me down.

Eventually though I found Scotty who believed in the vision and, along with his family, was willing to commit to the ride. Along the way a few couples/families had jumped on board to be part of the core team of planting the church. We found ourselves a location and we picked up our third pastor, Kaye. She came on board for a three month trial period. Things were super exciting, and we were ready to go. (You can read my blog post from that time here)

Then a few months after Kaye joined us, she left us. She found that our structure wasn’t going to work for her, so she moved on. She made the right decision, and she made it at the right time. For us though it was a bit of a blow. It was at this point that, in retrospect, we made our biggest mistake.

Having our three pastors, our location and the makings of a core team, we had been really keen to get moving. When Kaye left, we became worried that the momentum that we’d gained in finding the people to join us would be lost if we put all our plans on hold while we looked for our third pastor. Instead we chose to slow everything down. We would slowly work towards moving to the area, meeting on Sundays, growing our core team, so that when we found our third pastor we’d be ready to just go for it. Everything would be in place, we’d just have to hit the launch button.

However this isn’t how it worked. For over two years after Kaye left, Scotty and I kept trying to take little steps forward waiting for that third pastor to come. We advertised, met with people, prayed, and invited people to join us, but nothing worked. We never found that third pastor.

At the same time we moved to the area, started meeting weekly on Sundays, did church together for about a year, named the church, got our web and social media going, moved our meetings to mid week, and did anything we could not to lose momentum.

A lot of our motivation for this was that we didn’t want to lose the people who had joined us. We loved our small team, they were faithful, kind, committed, and whole-hearted followers of Jesus. We enjoyed doing life together. We were afraid of losing these excellent people so we kept moving forward.

And that was the problem, we were too afraid of losing momentum and losing people that we gave our church plant a limited life span. Instead of trying to continue as we had planned, and find our third pastor at the same time, we should have put everything on hold, been willing to lose what momentum we’d gained, so that we could live out this core vision for what we thought the church should be. We knew the third pastor was vital to what we wanted to do, and we knew our team and momentum was valuable. We tried to hold on to both but we couldn’t. We chose what was valuable over what was vital, and in the end, this cost us the plant.

The last time we met as a core team.

The last time we met as a core team.

We didn’t know any of this at the time. At the time we thought we were making the right decisions. We were praying, seeking counsel, trying to be wise, but in a purely results oriented economy, we made the wrong decision. We couldn’t have known that the path we put ourselves on years before the end would take us where it would, but it did, and so we must learn.

If I was to learn any lessons about how not to break a church plant, it’d be these:

1. Don’t be afraid to lose momentum.
2. Backwards steps in the present can prevent failure in the future.
3. Choose what’s vital over what is merely valuable.

All that said, I don’t believe church planting operates in a merely results based economy. I know God was interested in our faithfulness, and I think we achieved that. We were working hard to make decisions which would grow his kingdom, help people meet Jesus and love the people we had with us, these are good things. I know that, while the church plant didn’t end how we wanted it to, God’s goodness overrides everything. For all of us who were involved he used, is using, and will continue to use, what we did, and the experiences we had, to grow us and grow his kingdom. God has used, and is using, the church plant to get us right where he wants us. He is neither thwarted nor perplexed by our failures. So while I have learnt valuable lessons about leadership, momentum and decision making, the best thing to see was that while I might be able to break a church plant, I can’t break God’s plans or his goodness. It’ll all be good in the end.

If you want to hear a bit more on thoughts like these, I preached a bit about the church plant in my recent sermon on success idolatry. You can listen to it here.