Gender aside, church planting is not for the fainthearted. Yet (to use a decidedly feminine metaphor) just like childbirth labor, the extraordinary exertion—combined with some degree of pain—is temporary, and beyond worth it! And just like the early days with a new infant, the exhaustion and fog—combined with new-parent-giddiness—is eventually replaced by a season of comparative normalcy. The church planter realizes they need to find a sustainable endurance for the long haul. Church planter Peter Scazzero says “as go the leaders, so goes the church.” Sustained flourishing of the Body begins with the sustained flourishing of the leader. This doesn’t happen by accident. Last month, we considered some of the challenges women church planters face. This month I’ll share my field-tested convictions and practices for flourishing—applicable to all planters, but especially to women.
- You will have days you question God’s choosing you! You will have days when you’re tempted to quit. You might even have days when someone else questions your call. On those days, I go back to when I first said “yes!” to God’s call and ask myself: Who am I really doing this for? Doubt, discouragement, and disillusionment insidiously begin making their way into my soul when my ministry becomes about me, or even the people I serve. I work for one Boss. Period (Col 3:23). Once that’s reestablished, then I ask: If God is FOR me, who can be against me (Romans 8:31)?
- It’s easier to keep God in Boss-position when one has largely outgrown any people-pleasing, people-comparison, and/or competitive tendencies (Gal. 1:10). As a woman, I’ve done lifelong battle with all three, and birthing a church proved the ultimate leadership/spiritual formation crucible for me. Thankfully, in a very redemptive way, I found my voice and learned how to fully “be my [feminine] self” versus trying to be “one of the guys.”
- Stay grounded in intimate friendship with Jesus. Are you God’s friend (2 Chron. 20:7; James 2:23)? . . . Does God like you? (Brennan Manning always gets me!) . . . Do you experience Jesus confiding in you (John 15:14-15)? Friendship-intimacy-with-God is the baby that’s gotten thrown out with the bathwater in the “Jesus-and-me” theology critique of the last few decades. Such intimacy is the conduit through which Christ’s power flows full strength in my weakness (2 Cor. 9:9-12), and it’s a prerequisite for point 4.
- Lean hard into the Holy Spirit for the here-and-now instruction and direction God promises (John 14:26; Isaiah 48:17; Psalm 32:8). Even the most collaborative leader (women tend more toward this leadership style) at times must act decisively, alone. Courage and confidence to forge ahead comes from receiving guidance from the Holy Spirit, from knowing this is God’s enterprise, not yours (Acts 5:38-39).
- Meet monthly with a Barnabas—a pastor, coach, mentor, or spiritual director—who is outside your congregation and not your spouse. I have met with the same spiritual director for four years. He has also been a pastor and a church planter, so I know that he empathizes and counsels out of a wealth of experience. If you want to flourish, don’t wait until you’re languishing to seek this person out!
- Keep the Sabbath (Genesis 2:3). Even if you don’t feel the need for it (that’s not the point), even if you think you “have too much to do” (you always will!), choose, guard, and practice a Sabbath day (other than Sunday). To put a stake in the ground, and make yourself accountable, make this announcement during a worship service: your congregation have your loving attention 24/6, but on your Sabbath [name the day of the week] you won’t be thinking about your work, taking phone calls, checking email, on social media, etc.; you are only available in a true emergency (death of an immediate family member or a sudden, catastrophic event). Thank them in advance for honoring your Sabbath day. Believe me, I have done this, and they will!
- Like Sabbath, physical self-care might feel like a luxury that only established pastors can afford. Yet, given the unique demands of church planting, you owe it to yourself and your congregation to nourish your body with diet, sleep, and exercise, as best you can. Jesus took alone-time and walked away from ministry when his disciples insisted he was needed (Mark 1:35-39). Physical self-care is part of your ministry to your community.
In sum, Psalm 1 (The Message) describes the flourishing church planter:
How well God must like you—
You’re a tree replanted in Eden,
bearing fresh fruit every month,
Never dropping a leaf,
always in blossom.
God charts the road you take.
Shonnie Scott (firstname.lastname@example.org) has an MA from Fuller (’87) and DMin from George Fox Seminary (’10). She has been in vocational ministry since 1986 and spent the last six years as a solo lead pastor, launching the first satellite campus of Bethany Community Church in Seattle. Out of that experience, God is calling her to a new ministry—to serve as a pastor, mentor, and spiritual director to women pastors and church planters everywhere. Her passion is to ensure that the upcoming generation of women pastors and planters flourish in their callings.