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Lessons Learned in the First Year of Imago Dei – part 3

This is the final part to our series about what we’ve learned in the first year of Imago Dei. If you missed them, here are part one and part two.

9. Expect Support from Unlikely Partners

Many church planters expect to get funding from mega churches, big time individual givers and large missions funding organizations (i.e. NAMB), and that may very well happen. But most of our support came from unlikely places, such as young pastors, individuals being sacrificial with their money, and smaller churches that have a church planting passion. So don’t be afraid to look for support from all kinds of different places, and don’t despair if it doesn’t come from the sources you first expected to help you. Ask for support, make your needs known and trust God to provide.

10. Lead from the Pulpit

In addition to preaching the Word faithfully week by week, we have also found that the best place to cast the vision for the church is from the pulpit/stage. The best way to do this is by practicing “the drip method of preaching.” That is, each week, through your application of the text, say something about the mission/vision of the church. A lot of pastors have one Sunday a year to try to lead from the pulpit, but we don’t think this is the best approach. Instead, as you seek to apply the text, consider applying it to: believers, unbelievers, and the church as a whole. Let them hear the vision regularly rather than annually.

Side Note: One of the practical reasons that we take the Lord’s Supper every week (in addition to believing it’s the biblical pattern) is that it emphasizes what we think is most important: the gospel. We want our gospel-centered emphasis to permeate the entire worship service. So we want to preach to the ear (biblical exposition) as well as the eye (Lord’s Supper), and cast a gospel centered vision for the church from the stage.

11. Be Sensitive to the Un-churched

Guests appreciate clear directions, good signage, hospitality and well-explained aspects of corporate worship. It is possible that many have never been to corporate worship and it might seem completely foreign to them. For others, it may have been years since they attended corporate worship and many will be skeptical and anxious when they come to your door. We try to remember this as we prepare for each Sunday.

Further, we also try to intentionally address the un-churched person in the sermon, by giving running application, and also by having a few “asides” where we address them more directly. This is to make things clear to them, but also to encourage our people to bring their lost friends with them, knowing that the pastor will speak to them.

12. Don’t Be Surprised if People Leave

There are a lot of horror stories about core teams and church plants generally. Many books say that you will lose a significant portion of your charter members. We have been blessed by losing very few of core team members (two are moving away from Raleigh for valid reasons). The core team is the backbone of the church. They serve in a variety of ways (we believe some of this has to do to with the intense assessment process and with setting clear expectations) and can be trusted to help the elders build community, disciple others, and communicate the vision and mission of the church.

However, as you launch, don’t be surprised and don’t despair if some leave. This may be due to a variety of reasons. Some that leave will be those that loved (idolized?) one part of your vision but didn’t necessarily buy into the whole thing (i.e. they may really buy into some of your justice ministries but not really like covenant membership or small groups). Others may expect to be in a leadership position, but leave when you didn’t give it to them when and how they desired. And some will leave for other reasons.

We would appeal to those planting not to be numbers hungry (or idolatrous). Don’t be fearful that you might lose people or that you have to gain them to be self-sustaining. Instead, fight for their growth in Christ and be their shepherd(s) even when that might mean having direct conversations with them that cause them to leave. And stay faithful to the gospel and your vision. Remember lesson 1: it’s all about Jesus.

Side Note: We have also learned the value of having face-to-face and direct conversations as we sought to plant and see this church grow. It can cause some awkwardness, but in the end it is the biblical pattern, it will never leave people wondering, and it will help to cut down on gossip and division.

13. Be Prepared, Work Hard & Rest in Christ

We believe that preparation and hard work are absolutely essential in a church plant. While some planters are work-horses who need to learn how to take a nap, others are not prepared for the hard work it requires. Planting is not glorious work; it’s more like farming.

So don’t take your cue from college basketball and be a “one and done” church planter. A lot of guys want to get through seminary quickly, and become a pastor and plant a church as soon as they graduate. Just because you graduated seminary (or didn’t graduate) doesn’t mean you’re ready to plant a church.

You must prepare in every way, and your calling to be a church planter should be affirmed by your local (sending) church.

While you prepare, get your ecclesiology straight. Know what you believe about church polity. Prepare to set a vision for small groups, child care, and global missions. Have a theology of suffering, divorce, and gender roles. Have a theology and philosophy of corporate worship. Know how to financially survive. Work at your preaching skills.

Then, we would encourage you to be part of a church that can give you good field preparation. We would encourage guys to serve under pastors that can train and prepare you for a year or two before sending you out to plant.

Finally, embrace the privilege of working hard to plant a church, proclaiming the gospel and making Jesus known. Expect hardship, but persevere by the grace that is in Jesus. Pray with childlike faith, trusting the Lord to provide for you. Mediate on the gospel daily, finding in Christ your identity, joy and rest.

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