February 2, 2015

Lessons from the Front: What I Would Do Differently If I Had to Plant Again

It’s almost seven years since my family and I moved to Trevethin to plant Hill City Church—and it’s been a roller coaster of a ride! In many ways, the church that I now lead looks very different to the church that I dreamed of as a young, inexperienced, arrogant, gospel ranter.

That’s not a bad thing by the way!

However, for various reasons I’ve been thinking a lot recently about leadership and church planting, not least because I am being increasingly asked about it by other pastors and church planters. And what I have concluded is this: if I was going to plant again . . . I would do a lot of things very differently! So, I’ve decided to write a series of blog posts to expound on this further. Please know that I am not writing these posts from a place of guilt or regret—I have repented much and received much grace for the many mistakes I have made. Rather, the purpose of these posts is to share some of the hard lessons I’ve learned along the way, in the hope that it might help others to not make the same mistakes!

This series will by no means be an exhaustive list, but for what it’s worth, if I was going to plant again. . . .

1. I wouldn’t do it on my own!

I think the only reason that God allowed me and my wife (Michelle) to start a church on our own (it was five months until ANYONE else joined us!) was so that I could tell others what a STUPID idea it is! If I’m being honest, I know that my motive was a dangerous combination of pride and fear. Pride, because I honestly thought I could do it alone. Fear, because I couldn’t face the thought of the church plant failing! I honestly went into the church plant with a mindset than if it was just the two of us, then barring death or divorce the church could only grow!

I have since come to realise that the New Testament model of church planting is missional teams, not maverick hot-heads. Jesus never sent his disciples out in anything less than pairs, and it seems that more often than not Paul was either on mission with, or in jail with, at least one other brother. God graciously didn’t allow me to blow up or die alone in the trenches, but going it alone was neither wise nor godly and I definitely wouldn’t do it again!

2. I wouldn’t be the guy who does everything.

As I mentioned above, I recognise that pride was a real problem. In the early stages I was the guy who did everything—the stuff you’d expect a planter to do like preaching, outreach, pastoral care, writing prayer letters, etc. But I also did most of the other stuff too—making coffee, designing leaflets, setting up bank accounts, etc. This was probably partly due to the fact that I was stupid enough to start with no other help (see above!) but also because I wanted to be wanted, or perhaps more truthfully, I needed to be needed! The root of this is pride.

One of the things that I find most compelling about Jesus is that he was committed to involving others in his ministry, like the time when his disciples were flapping because they were surrounded by 5,000 hungry mouths. Jesus’ response: “You give them something to eat.” (Matt. 14:16) Sure, Jesus did the miracle, but he didn’t need to be the guy dishing out the loaves and fishes.

If Jesus didn’t need to be the guy who does everything, neither do I!

3. I’d be far more intentional in raising up leaders from the start.

For several years, the thought of releasing others into leadership didn’t even cross my mind. This was partly because I wanted to be the guy who does everything (see above) but also because I merely viewed others as a being a means to fulfilling my ministry, rather than seeing my ministry as existing to empower and equip others to be all that God has called them to be. How shameful! And how different to Jesus who, within a few verses of starting his ministry, was trekking down the beach calling others to follow him on a mission to change the world (Matt. 4:18–19).

We are now seven (humbling) years into the Hill City adventure, and I am privileged to lead alongside two fantastic elders whose skill-sets and convictions make the church’s leadership far stronger than it ever would have been with just me at the helm. Similarly, there are several other men and women in the church who are simply more gifted than I am and are now involved in serving in various leadership roles. I now see how vital the task of raising up leaders really is.

We’re getting there now . . . but we should have got there a lot sooner!

4. I’d place a much greater emphasis on prayer.

At Hill City we have recently sought to ramp up the prayer life of the church. As the man who planted Hill City, I was responsible for establishing the vision and values and setting the tone for the church. If I’m being brutally honest, I don’t think I dug the foundations of prayer deep enough at Hill City in the formative stages. Rather than prioritising and persevering in the anonymous and unglamorous work of prayer, I was preoccupied with doing other ministry stuff that was tangible to others and that I thought would deliver immediate results. This was a prideful, stupid mistake.

In Mark 1:35–39, we see Jesus getting up early to pray before a busy day of ministry. His prayer life was such that His disciples were provoked to ask him “Lord, teach us to pray.” (Luke 11:1) And as he contemplated the horrors of the cross in the shadows of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed (Mark 14:32). Incredibly, He was even praying as they crucified him (Luke 23:34). After his ascension, Jesus’ disciples gathered to pray (Acts 1:14). The Holy Spirit came, the church started to grow and as persecution arose—the Apostles headed straight to a prayer meeting! (Acts 4:23–24)

If Jesus and the early Spirit-filled church needed to pray – how much more does a flawed little valley boy trying to plant a church?! A prayer-less church is like a Ferrari without an engine. It might look good from the outside, but it ain’t going nowhere!

These are just some of the things I would do differently.

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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