Pro Tip: Stay Married

I’ve got two goals for every church planting couple that I coach: Stay Married.

Do we really have to state that goal? Yes. Yes we do.

  • 80% of ministry spouses report that ministry is hazardous to their family.
  • 1500 pastors leave the ministry every month. Planters included.

Church planter types are awesome. Bold, risk-takers, full of faith in God, ready to storm the gates of hell with a super soaker! We are like the Marines of the church. We go first into harm’s way to fight the good fight and see God’s Kingdom advance!

Only you know what? We aren’t Marines. We are, for the vast majority, married and Marines don’t re-locate their families to the front lines of a battle! We do. And it’s dangerous up here. There is a real enemy and he’s mean, he cheats and he wants to destroy you, your family and that church you dreamed up at the coffee shop when you were amped up on your third doppio espresso of the day.

The church planting battle field is not friendly to marriages. So you need a gospel coach that is going to keep you focused on your marriage amidst all the other demands. Twice in one week this month, I heard of two planters I know personally in different states whose wives had affairs. They were successful. They were ‘too busy’ to get a coach. Part of big name ministries, writing and speaking. But they neglected their marriages. How incredibly sad.

Listen, I know planting is a demanding call. There are no distinct time or space boundaries between work, home, marriage and friendship. It’s easy to get busy! It’s easy to forget about your spouse and your marriage. I got busy serving God, winning the lost, starting Bible studies, gathering, networking, marketing, speaking, raising money and planning (and this was 12 years ago before social media and the cloud!) The kind and firm questions of my church planter coach steered me away from the dangers I see so clearly now but couldn’t during the fog of the start up battlefield.

Church planter, you are different. And it’s not because you are better. It’s because you are a marked man on our enemy’s hit list. If you or your wife fail morally, then you and your family will need to step off the front lines for a long time. Neglecting your first ministry to your family is very easy to slip into but its wrong.

According to 1 Timothy 3, a qualification of leading a church is that you are to be the husband of one wife and manage your household well. The reality is, you lose in marriage? You take a seat. Or at least you should.

My wife and I at the CMM booth at an annual church event. We’ve been married 28 years. As cheesy as it may sound, I hope every church planter couple ends up like us – more in love during and after the hard work of planting a church.

So what should you do? Stay married.

That is a moralist statement. There is no power in that advice. You need to put your faith in the power of who God is and what Christ Jesus as done and will do. And you’ll need a coach who will point you to Jesus – not his great advice or expertise.

What should you look for in a church planting coach?

1. Get a coach who will remind you to whom you are married. As a member of the Body of Christ, we who put our faith in Christ are His Bride. You can’t lose your marriage to Him. He’s the best husband you can trust to protect you and yours.

2. Worship God, not your spouse or your kids if you have them. Worship Christ and ask Him about everything. Everything. You’ll want a coach that prompts you to pray. A lot.

3. Work less not simply more or harder. Minute-by-minute dialogue with God requires much more listening and less hustle than you probably tend toward as a church planter. Most of what I did racing around making it happen was my own willful self-effort. Not good. I needed a coach who’d been close enough to burn out that he warned me of the signs he saw in my own life. I had to learn to Sabbath. To cease. To stop. To be human.

4. Depend on the Holy Spirit. There are mountains of great church planting resources and wonderful subject matter experts, mentors, trainers and coaches available. Not one of us will be better for you as a planter than deep, old-school, radical humility and dependence on the Holy Spirit.

If you are stuck or struggling, get a gospel coach. One of our team can and will help you find out why you’re stuck and help you follow Jesus and stay married as you plant a church for the glory and by the power of God.

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I wanted to be a famous pastor

crowd at conference

I used to want to be more famous. I didn’t say it that way, but that is what I wanted. Honestly, I still want it, but less so. Maybe I’m getting wiser. I’m certainly older. And honestly, I’m afraid. For myself and the men, women and their families who lead churches.

Is this the fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom? These days I coach several planters and pastors. I’m involved with many church planting networks where we talk about and expect churches to grow. And always to get as big as they possibly can. And we are always sad and devastated when someone takes a fall.

I’m beginning to wonder if wanting to be more famous, have a bigger reach or growing our numbers is a good expectation. Or if we should be a little more suspicious of celebrity. Even small-time celebrity I (still) want.

This may be an emperor’s new clothes set of questions, but I’m going to ask anyway:

  1. As a planter or pastor, is getting more people to follow you better? Is more influence or power, money, buildings necessarily healthy?
  2. Should we planters and pastors produce media content (i.e. blogs, podcasts, tweets, posts, videos, books) or focus mostly on sermons, prayer, disciplemaking and shepherding? (Yeah, that is a leading question and this is a blog. Forgive my mixed signals. I can see my agenda is showing.)
  3. Is the pursuit of becoming a larger church with big followings a biblical or wise way for God’s Kingdom to expand? Or are there unseen, inherent risks to those who lead them?
  4. Should ‘successful’ planters and pastors speak at conferences, author books that require them to travel to speak at more conferences and be away from their family and flock?
  5. Should we ask some hard questions about our role in attending, promoting or supporting conferences that promote celebrity?

And more importantly, what should we learn by how Jesus handled celebrity?

Planting and pastoring a church is already a dangerous calling. I hear far too often of burnout, moral failures, depression, family struggles and even suicide among pastors. That is not the way it is supposed to be!

Are we, in part, hurting ourselves? Are we playing into a scheme of our enemy? Maybe we should examine Scripture and talk about a better way.

Perhaps we should aim lower.

Lord, have mercy.

More of Less for Church Planters: Part 2

(Second half of this post.) 
I love throwing Frisbee. Nothing beats a good game of Ultimate or just tossing the 175g across a field with someone who has skills on par with mine. I’m not the best, but I do well and I enjoy it. 
Nobody is born knowing how to throw well. It’s weird and takes no small amount of practice, even for naturally athletic people. Same for grace-directed spiritual disciplines.
More of less should be a normal skill for every Christian. Not considered newsworthy or radical or cool if you have nothing better to do with your time. It’s motivated by this: wanting to be with Jesus, no matter what it takes.
Even if it threatens the idol that you might not get as much done, potentially being less successful, potentially feeling like you are wasting your time. Especially if it reveals idolatry!
What We Need
Our churches in the West need more power of the Holy Spirit. More prayer and intercession. More trust in God than trust in human skill and effort. What we need more grace-filled discipline to spend time with our Father.
When I parachuted in to do a scratch, multi-ethnic church plant, there were a million things to do, but I taped a quote from Eugene Peterson to my computer monitor. It says, ‘Busyness is laziness.’ What? I’ll spare you reading his whole book and summarize his point: Busyness is substituting many good things for the highest, most excellent thing. Meeting with Jesus ought to be our most excellent task. 
Do I get too busy? Yes. Am I not getting enough done? I don’t think so. Am I closer to Jesus after working hard to plant a church? Yes. I’m more dependent on Him. I’m less hurried and harried than I used to me. Because of His grace worked into me through resting more, accomplishing less myself and the discipline of less.
Pastors, fathers, mothers, your church and your family need Less. You need Less – to turn off the 24/7 distractions and meet with Jesus – regularly, purposefully, intentionally. Replace the good things with excellent. You need More – quiet, solitude, simplicity, fasting – it will deepen your experience of Jesus’ grace. 
More of Less is experiencing the transformation Jesus’ wrought by His salvation. Disciplines of Less are not earning your salvation. The message of the gospel is that Jesus has completed everything in his life, death, burial and resurrection and granted it to us to live out. He is The Evangelist, Minister, Networker, Do-It-All Leader of your church plant. He’s The Senior Pastor of your church, The Leader of your network. Less of our work is needed and more of Him is needed.

Like learning to throw a Frisbee, more of less is awkward at first. But worth it.

 

More of Less for Church Planters: Part 1

Silence. Solitude. Meditation. Fasting. Simplicity.
These are as strange and alien concepts to the life of Christians in the West. At best such practices feel odd, optional or only for super-Christians. Or worse, they could be construed as punitive.

However our historic Christian faith grew in grace and power as everyday believers and leaders practiced spiritual disciplines. On purpose. With astonishing results.

Check Out Spiritual Disciplines
When I started in ministry as a 23-year-old Jr Hi Pastor just off the road with a Christian band, voice mail and pagers were cutting edge. We communicated only via phone and paper. As a church planter, we have social media, mobile phones and the internet that invades every spare corner of our lives.

My first boss in ministry encouraged me to read Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline and made me go on monthly prayer retreats. I did not like it at first. Now as a church planter, I am so glad someone showed me how and why spiritual disciplines are vital for ministry. It was not easy for me to do.

It showed me ministry is impossible to do. For me. I need Jesus to do it through me. In fact, Jesus said in  John 14:12-14 that we would do greater works than He did. By asking Him to do what He can do through us.

Disciplines are inconvenient, frustrating and seem counter-productive. But we managed to get ministry accomplished before cell phones, iPads and Wi-Fi. Apparently, even Jesus and the church ministered pretty well focusing on prayer, discipleship and a simple life.

It leads to this leading question: what kind of boundaries (if any) do you have now between the urgency of everything on your phone or tablet or laptop and your relationship with Christ? I fear our little space for Jesus makes me/us a mile wide and an inch deep. I’ll even say it may make us hypocrites on par with Pharisees.

Expect More of Less to be Normal?
A pastor friend of mine recently posted the following:

(Name) is going off the grid for a week for a silent retreat. Yup. No cell, not FB, no Angry Birds, no TV to numb or distract me. No agenda, not planning, no strategizing- just a whole week to meet with Jesus. I’ll either go completely crazy or meet Jesus. We’ll see.

I applaud his decision! And I say more of less! More of less should be normal. And not drive you crazy.

 

Jim Moon, Jr. serves CMM (Church Multiplication Ministries) as Coaching Catalyst and is Founding Pastor of Crosspoint Encuentro Church in Smyrna GA.