This previous post describes one of the attributes that’s very common in church planting: if you’re brave enough to step out of status quo, to pioneer in pursuit of the Kingdom that goes before us, you have to deal with inevitable fear.
Dealing with fear is one thing. Once you get into the thick of starting something new, when there’s no turning back, it’s here where you will realize there are few enterprises that will leave you more alone.
Embarking on a journey of the unknown leaves you just that — unknown. You will teeter on the edge of the proverbial abyss and few, if any, will notice.
If you’re starting out are you ready? If you’ve been there do you remember how it was? Here are some ideas to dodge defeat.
After spending more than 10 years running my own businesses, and in the middle of that planting a church, I can attest that there is little glamour in the pursuit. As an entrepreneur the appeal is you set your own course, follow your dream, and reap all the benefits (assuming there are any). The reality is you’re largely alone while you’re developing, and if everything fails, there’s no safety net. When it comes to church planting you certainly aren’t in it for the money, and once you get into the thick of it you will spend years wandering in the desert questioning your every move.
Once the appeal and excitement of starting a church plant wear off you’re left with the arduous task of creating an existence in the depths of obscurity, and the world of obscurity is a lonely place.
The moment you step outside the bounds of safety you are alone. In a church plant that means few will understand the things you talk about and even fewer will participate with the ideas you have. Some may try what you’re selling once or twice but end up wilting away never to return. Those who do stick around will need years upon years to enter into the same depth you have before they’ll share the dream.
The reality of church planting in a post-Christendom context is that it requires a supreme amount of patience. The requirements also include a level of spiritual formation and health to be able to withstand the accompanied loneliness. You have to be okay with quiet. Are you able to motivate yourself to pursue what you cannot see? You have to be capable of operating without affirmation of other people (you’ll probably receive the opposite of affirmation if anything).
Of course, that may leave you with few people to talk to (or at least ones from the church.)
Loneliness is normal in church planting, but constant loneliness can cripple.
It’s crucial to be connected with like-minded people even if they’re not part of your tribe our church. These people may not even exist in your city, and it’s quite likely you won’t physically see them face to face with any regularity. From experience I want to encourage pioneers of our faith to be very intentional with finding like-minded people in their geographic context. Trendsetting can be lonely but we can find necessary relief by valuing the need to debrief and process our struggles with people who understand.
I was lucky on one hand to encounter like-minded individuals relatively early in my journey. Being a nondenominational church plant meant that I was effectively by myself (which is the worst way to start anything, I don’t recommend it).
This reality remains,
if you pioneer then you will lead a charge down a path largely alone.
Enter into the liturgy of lonely, but don’t stay too long.