By Mark Dance: One of the greatest joys of my ministry was planting a church in northeast Tennessee in 1991. I made several mistakes, which hopefully you can learn from the easy way, through my pain, not yours. These are not the only mistakes I made in the ten years I pastored that church, but they are the ones I regret the most.
1. I Stole Other Members’ Ministries
Church planters are notoriously hands-on entrepreneurs. We like to be in the middle of the action and are often tempted into thinking that the success of our ministry revolves around us. A pastor’s job is not to perform all of the ministry, but rather train the saints in the work of ministry (Eph. 4:12).
2. I Hogged the Pulpit
I think my reluctance to share my pulpit was rooted in secret insecurities. I loved to preach, which is good, but it would have been better to have raised up other preachers.
And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Tim. 2:2).
Another bonus to shared preaching is staying fresh. Literally half of my time was spent preparing for three messages for four services each week, which was neither necessary nor biblical. Although today’s church planters are much less likely to prepare three messages, they are tempted to make themselves the star of the show by convincing themselves that it won’t go on without them.
3. I Cast Vision Inconsistently
This church plant was technically a replant, since there were eight remaining members left in the ashes of a struggling church which eventually called it quits. These survivors were joined by eight families who created a core team which relaunched as a completely different church with a new name.
One dirty secret of church planting is that most of the founding members are former members of other churches. Your members start day one with a preconception of what church should look like. Church planters need to cast a compelling vision so consistently that the members are able and willing to communicate it conversationally to new people as they arrive.
4. I Did Not Pursue a Mentor
Next week I will be posting a three part series on mentoring from the perspective of Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy. In this season as a church planter, I had plenty of ministry peers (Barnabas), and mentees (Timothy), but cannot think of one mentor (Paul) I reached out to. The initiative for mentoring starts with the mentee not the mentor, and I made the arrogant mistake of not pursuing this important relationship.
5. I Focused Too Much on Buildings
My formative years were the 1980s, when churches believed that, “If you build it, they will come.” We spent a lot of time, energy, and money building and remodeling facilities. I don’t regret a dime that we spent, although I do regret spending so much of my personal time on these projects. Church planters need to see themselves as Ezras (priests), not Nehemiahs (governors/builders). If you don’t have a trusted layperson to be your facility specialist, wait until you find one before you move forward.
6. I Neglected Personal Evangelism
Our first year exceeded everyone’s expectations for conversion growth. This sense of urgency was fueled by prayer and vision. After a few years of fruitful growth, we became comfortably stable, and my heart grew uncomfortably cold. We wasted several years on the treadmill of transfer growth, which was primarily my mistake.
Many things have changed about church planting since the nineties, which is why I want to encourage you to check out Ed Stetzer’s and Daniel Im’s Planting Missional Churches: Your Guide to Starting Churches that Multiply.