February 23, 2015

Lessons from the Front: What I Would Do Differently if I Had to Plant Again (3)

If I was going to plant again . . . I would be far less bothered by what others are doing. I think it was Theodore Roosevelt who said that “Comparison is the thief of joy.”For what it’s worth, I agree with him! This is especially true when it comes to church planting. I’d like to think that when I planted Hill City seven years ago, I was a man so gripped by God’s plan that nothing and no one could distract or discourage me from the task at hand. But, that would be far from the truth!

In reality, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, and everywhere I turned I seemed to be surrounded by leaders who were better than me, churches that were bigger than mine, and ministries that seemed far more fruitful. On top of all that were the countless books I read that were written by theological gurus and missional masterminds. Then there were the podcast preachers who felt the need to tell me (along with their thousands of online listeners) about the hundreds of new converts they were baptising every month. There was the church plant down the road that, despite being even newer than mine, seemed to be growing twice as fast and was the new talk of the town! Websites that were more impressive. Ministries that were knocking out awesome media content for fun. Churches that had a worship band (not just a dude with a guitar!) In truth all those things got to me. I started thinking things like:

“If we had a band, we’d have far more people coming.”

“Video guy . . . we NEED a video guy!”

“If only Piper could hear me preach right now!

Comparison had crept up on me and, just like Roosevelt said, it was robbing my joy. The crazy thing is that for a church plant that had started in a house with just myself, my wife, our daughter and a dog, we were doing OK! The growth wasn’t explosive, but neither were we haemorrhaging folk. Our website wasn’t spectacular, but it was certainly functional (and we were one of the only churches in the valley to even have a website!). My preaching was quite strong, creative, and above all: faithful to the gospel. And Michelle remains one of the most anointed worship leaders I know. So why was I allowing myself to get so distracted and discouraged?

I guess it’s a bit like what sprinters have to deal with. When you see those eight men/women lining up on the start line, you see eight athletes with steel-eyed focus staring straight ahead. They are not concerning themselves with what is happening in the seven other lanes—they are focussed solely on executing their game plan in their lane. How many times have you heard the winning athlete say something along the lines of “I just got in the zone and ran my race”?

I think that’s what the Apostle Paul was getting at in 2 Timothy 4:5 when he charged his young protege, Timothy: “Fulfil YOUR ministry”. Timothy had a unique calling on his life. Sure, he served the same Saviour as Paul, was called to preach the same gospel as Paul, was filled with the same Holy Spirit as Paul, and had plenty to learn from the wiser, more experienced apostle. BUT, when all was said and done, he still had to fulfil his ministry. He had to forget all other distractions that surrounded him and focus on running his race in his lane.

There’s a lesson in there for all of us church planters! It’s taken me a lot longer than it should have, and I confess that I’m still prone to glance across to the high-profile preacher podcasting on one side of me, or the pastor of the bigger church planted on the other side. But God has given me a unique game plan to execute. Those guys have to fulfil their ministry. I have to fulfil mine. I’m likely never going to influence as many people as John Piper or Tim Keller. And that’s OK. They’re likely never going to move to Trevethin and seek to make Christ known in this beautiful, broken valley.

That’s my call. My lane. My race to run. I’m done with making joy-sapping, faith-wrecking, ego-stroking comparisons. God bless all the other runners. I pray that we all stay in our lane, give it our all and that we all get safely across the finish line. And I’m thankful that when we do cross that line, we’re not going to be asked: “how many were in your church?” “How slick was your website?” or “How rocking was your band?”All we’re going to hear is “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master.” And that’s good enough for me.

If I was going to plant again . . . I’d like to think that I would be far less bothered by what others are doing—I’d just get my head down and crack on!

Dai will be continuing this series every Monday for the next few weeks. To catch up with him on Twitter: @daihankey or better yet catch up with his rantings (his words) on his blog: Sanctified Rant

  • Dai Hankey

    Dai Hankey is pastor of Redeemer Church in Cardiff, Wales. He's married to Michelle and they have four children.

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