When I started out on this church planting journey I had spent a lot of time in a process of discernment, and was confident that God was leading me to plant this church. But beyond that initial leading I had no idea what this thing would look like, nor how it would grow/develop. Now, I am a planner, so I started reading books and articles on church planting strategy, and I began to plan how this thing would look. This was all done couched in prayer and seeking the leading of the Holy Spirit, and we started this church with a plan we were confident was from the Lord.
That’s where things started moving in a direction we weren’t prepared for. In our initial plan we thought we’d be in the “core-group” phase, meeting in a home, for a number of months. Well, after only six meetings in a home, we ran out of chairs. At that sixth meeting I asked the church to pray for what God might want us to do (e.g. get more chairs, find a bigger house, start a worship service). The following week I was connected to a local ministry through one of our core group members, who offered us a Sunday morning slot in their building to launch a service for no cost at all. So our plan changed.
That first Sunday morning location was where we figured we’d spend the first few years of existence, but after only six months of meeting there, we ran out of space again, and once again, going to the congregation on Sunday morning, I asked them to pray for what God would want us to do. Well, that very next week I was working at a coffee shop when another established pastor from the area approached me and asked, “Chris, how’s the church plant going?” I answered that it was going well, but that we were out of space, and we’re likely needing to move again. He responded, “Funny you should mention that, because my church is moving out of our space next month, and the building owner asked me this morning if I knew of any other churches in the area who might want to lease the space. Do you want me to connect you with him?” Once again, a new location was dropped in our laps, and our plan was changed again.
We believe in a God who is intimately engaged in every detail of our lives, and one of the unforeseen joys and challenges of church planting is relinquishing control of your plan to allow for God to change the plan.
Don’t just do what God told you to do (which on the surface sounds heretical, so please read the next sentence). Always do what God is telling you to do. A lot of times churches get a clear word from God about what to do, and then they just keep doing that thing over and over again, never listening to him for what he is telling them to do right now.
It makes me think of Genesis 22 and the famous narrative of Abraham and Isaac. God tells Abraham, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love…and offer him there as a burnt offering.” (v.2) This is as clear a message as can be given. Go, sacrifice your son. Abraham is faithful to heed this instruction, even though it must have been an excruciating experience. But what would have happened if Abraham simply did what God told him to do instead of consistently checking what God was telling him to presently do? You see, child sacrifice doesn’t flannel-graph very well. I don’t know how the Veggie Tales would have handled that story. Abraham is faithful to do what God told him to do, but is active to let God change the plan.
It is a challenge to hold our God-inspired plans in an open hand. It requires a commitment of prayer and discernment to actively seek what God is currently telling you. But it is a great joy to witness God changing our plans, and doing a work much greater than we could hope or imagine. Don’t just do what God told you to do. Always do what God is telling you to do.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV)
Chris Martin is the lead pastor & church planter of Fathom Church (http://fathomchurch.org/), an Acts 29 church, in Littleton, Colorado. He and his wife, Maryse, have one daughter, Harper. You can find him on Twitter (https://twitter.com/cmartpastor).