07 Jan 2020

What Makes a Healthy Church Planter

Nathan Camp

Recently, I read this statement in an article: “Research shows that pastors are twice as likely to experience financial stress as the average American.” 

This got my attention. As a former church planter and pastor, I know first hand that the pastorate can be a very tough job, one that often can take a toll on pastors themselves. 

More research shows that pastors’ marriages often take a greater toll, their children have more issues, and the physical health of many pastors is below average. Many church planters and pastors feel like they should get hazard pay. 

So, what is it that makes pastoring so difficult? Find out in this blog, and the three-step process for going the long haul in ministry.

What makes pastoring so difficult

As I’ve said before, but as you know, intuitively, the pastorate is difficult. It’s not for the weak of heart. 

Many people will say, “Yes, I know that.” But, after planting two churches and being around hundreds of pastors through my role at StartCHURCH, I can tell you with a great degree of certainty that it’s harder than you think. 

I remember when I was preparing to launch our first church plant, I thought I had a good idea of how “hard” ministry was since I had been on staff at a large church. It wasn’t until I became a senior pastor that I realized I was in a whole new world. The weight of ministry was different than I had ever felt before. 

Being the lead pastor took on sobriety and a weightiness that I had not previously known when I was a staff pastor. The nature of the call of a pastor is that of a leader, servant, and warrior. That alone can make the pastorate very difficult.

Secondly, false expectations can riddle the heart of a church planter or pastor. For many, social media creates a false view of the success of others. They scroll through their feed, seeing other ministries that started when they did, and they see a completely different picture than what they see before themselves each Sunday.  

Everyone seems to have it together on social media. Everyone’s auditoriums seem full. Every program seems to be working. But often, you’re not seeing the truth. You are seeing a picture that was taken at such a precise angle that shows the most amount of people with the least amount of empty seats, for example. We see that and tend to think, “Hundreds of people are coming each week to this other church!” But, little do we know that is just the angle of the camera, not the reality in the church. 

This is what creates a false narrative of what “normal” or “success” looks like to us. We look out and see empty seats or struggling programs and compare them to what we see on social media, and we feel discouraged. The truth is, social media, filters, and very generous angles allowed the church to paint a much larger picture than what is real. The problem with this kind of thing isn’t just the positioning, but in what those kinds of pictures do to other pastors and church leaders as they see those “made-for-social-media” pictures and think it’s normal and then strive to attain what is essentially a false view of reality. 

Thirdly, very few pastors or church planters set up and maintain a series of healthy boundaries of what it looks like to pastor for the long haul, not just for the sprint. 

Often, I hear church planters talk about their plans, and they are often very short-sighted. They want to get to launch as fast as they can. Or get to their first 100 people as fast as they can. Or get to a building as fast as they can. 

The truth is, though, what is often needed is not a vision for the speed to the destination, but a vision for the condition and quality of your soul once you arrive at these points. Often, a great question to ask is, “What do I want to be true about me when we cross these mile markers?” 

It’s not just about getting to the moment, it’s about getting to the moment with the emotional, mental, and spiritual energy to engage the moment. You want to have enough wind in your sails to celebrate those moments when they happen.

The process of a long haul ministry

You’ve probably heard this before, but it’s a great reminder: ministry is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. 

I took up running endurance races a few years ago. I have done several marathons and 70.3 Ironman events. Having been around these kinds of races, I can tell you no one “accidentally” ends up at the finish line. Crossing that line is the result of a process that got you to the finish line. It was a process that prepared you to cover the miles in a way that lands you where you want to be and how you want to be when you get there. 

This lesson also applies to church planters and pastors. 

Here is a three-step process for going the long haul in ministry: 

1. Define the win.

I have often said that my greatest fear is to “win at the wrong thing.” Here’s what I know about myself: when I do something, I go all in. I know that I am going to put energy, time, effort, money, and passion into everything I do. Because of that, I believe I am going to succeed at whatever I put my hands to. However, this also makes it critical that I spend time on the front end of my endeavors. This looks like defining where exactly I am headed. Otherwise, I can give all of that time, effort, money, and passion to succeeding at the wrong thing.

I’ve found that what I have to do is to lift my eyes off the immediate and look more long term at where I am going. I have found this is made clear the most through the “what do I want to be true” questions. 

Here are a few great questions to walk through with your spouse, your board, or your mentors as you define what your wins look like: 

  1. What do I want to be true about me, spiritually, one year into our church plant?
  2. What do I want to be true about my family at the end of the next three years?
  3. What do I want to be true about us financially as we enter the second five years of church planting?

Answering these questions is the first step in becoming a healthy pastor who is able to go the distance because you are defining where you want to go, not just where you hope to arrive. Andy Stanley said that “Everyone ends up somewhere, not everyone ends up somewhere on purpose.” These questions allow you to have clarity on where you want to go. 

2. Decide how to get there.

Once you know where you are going, you can decide HOW you are going to get there. The truth is, the HOW is just as important as the WHERE. 

Some people say things like, “I want to get 100 people in the church as fast as I can!” If that is your vision, then the shortest path is the right call with little questions asked. But, if your vision is, “I want to get to the place of pastoring 100 people in regular attendance while maintaining a strong marriage and connecting with my children in the process,” then the shortest path may not be the right one, as it could hinder the quality of the other aspects of your vision. The shortest path is not the right path if it costs you a strong marriage and time with your children. 

Our “how” must incorporate more than just the speed of the journey, but the quality of our lives when we arrive at our destination. Too many church planters and pastors disconnect their visions from their personal lives and end up at the finish line too burned out to enjoy it. They are living for the growth of their congregations but not foreseeing the need to cultivate their soul. 

We have to ask ourselves, “How can I arrive where I want to go in a way that will result in the condition I want to be in when I get there?”

This is a great question to seek in the place of prayer and to also discuss with your family, mentors, or elders. 

3. Defend your path and vision from distractions.

The moment you know where you are going and how to get there, you will be met with resistance. It just happens. 

The moment I say I want to lose weight, a donut shop opens up next to my office. The reason many times church planters and pastors are not healthy isn’t that they don’t have a clear vision or a clear how in getting to that vision, but that they have been distracted by other things that keep them from the vision. And often, they are not bad things, they are just not the right things to help us get where we want to go. 

I have found the key here is creating a “stop doing” list. This is the list you should create to stop doing certain things that are getting in the way of achieving your goals. 

For example, if my vision is to “get to the place of pastoring 100 people in regular attendance while maintaining a strong marriage and connection with my children in the process,” I might decide to stop having meetings after 5:00 p.m., so I don’t miss dinner with my family. Or, I might need to stop spending time in front of the TV so that I can spend more time with my spouse. Or, I might need to stop eating unhealthy food so that my energy levels are where I want to be for the things that matter most. 

I don’t know what they are for you, but we all have potential distractions that keep us from the life we know we want to live.  

Pursuing your vision

In the life of ministry, there are always more people to help, pain to be comforted, problems to be addressed, and meetings to be had, and we won’t have time to address all of it. To be a healthy pastor, you must decide now, even before you really get going, what you will and will not do in pursuit of your vision. Because our goal is not just to arrive at the finish line, the goal is to be as healthy as possible when we get there. 

So, what is your vision as a church planter? What are the goals you have for your church plant? Give us a call at 877-494-4655 and share them with our team. At StartCHURCH, we want your church planting journey to be a success. We are here to come alongside you and encourage you along the way. 

We created the Launch to Lead video course series specifically for church planters. This video course is designed to give you practical steps in planting a thriving, successful church.

Call us today at 877-494-4655 to purchase this video course and take your church plant to the next level.

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Blessings,
Raul Rivera


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