About a month ago my coach asked me a couple of questions that have turned out to be the most helpful questions I have heard in our four years of church planting. While I was describing a new leadership development program I was hoping to implement he thoughtfully asked, “What is this program going to look like a year from now?” After listening to me stumble through some false bravado regarding the forthcoming success of this program he encouraged me to pause and ask, “What would it look like to grow into this and not just go into this?”
The imagery of a growing plant is perhaps the most common symbol associated with church planting. The stock photos of a fresh sprout shooting through the soil are standard fare on church planting books, websites, brochures, and the ever-present fundraising letters. This is in many ways to be expected, for just as a seed buried in the ground can bring forth new life after receiving the adequate nutrients so too can a new church see life break through in places where there was previously only death and darkness.
But as I have reflected on my coach’s words these past few months I have become convicted of the many ways that I have neglected this imagery during our journey of church planting. Instead of patiently allowing the seed to soak up the nutrients provided by soil, water, and sunlight I have tried to take matters into my own hands, vainly attempting to force the germination process to work on my timeline. Like a farmer sitting in his combine the day after planting, I foolishly thought that because I was ready for our church to be at a certain point it should just magically be so.
Growing instead of going is particularly challenging in a church plant because you are constantly told that there are a hundred different things you should be going into. You have to go find small group leaders, go get an elder board, go break through the 75 attendance barrier, go meet with prospective team members, go find funding, all the while not neglecting to go home to be with your family. The funny thing about all those examples—with the exception of time with family—is they take time. You can’t force someone to be the leader of a community group or on the elder board, you have to allow them to grow into it. In our cultural setting you can’t send out mailers and expect people to visit your church, you have to see relationships with non-Christians grow and develop. And while I have heard of the rumor of a “fully funded church plant,” it seems that even budgets take time to grow.
But my point with all of this is not just that it takes time, if that were the case old churches would always be healthy churches, which is unfortunately not the case. More important than time is the fact that a church planter must humbly rely on the promise of Jesus to be the one to build His church (Matthew 16:18). Going is an act of pride because it shows you think you can do this through your own planning and effort, while growing is an act of humility because you have to understand you can’t do anything to speed up the process.
I think my desire to go into things instead of growing into things is the result of misunderstanding my role. I have wanted to believe that my abilities and work ethic would be the determining factor in how successful our church plant would be. This type of thinking not only reflects the messiah-complex that is all too prevalent among church planters, it shows a lack of faith in that aforementioned promise that Jesus would be the one to build His church.
Pride is what leads me to fake an answer to the question, “What is this program going to look like a year from now?” while humility is honestly admitting that I don’t have an answer for the question. By continually going into programs and strategies designed to bring instant results I am not trusting Jesus to be the one to bring growth. Humility is the only thing that will keep me from striving to go and instead trusting God to bring the growth.
“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” -1 Corinthians 3:6-7
Kolburt Schultz is the lead pastor of missio Dei: Falcon, an Acts 29 church plant east of Colorado Springs. Kolburt and his wife Kellie have four children, Reagan, Anderson, Jackson, and Hudson.