Please enjoy this repost and edit from 2015.
This previous post describes one attribute common in church planting: if you’re brave enough to pioneer you have to deal with inevitable fear. Once you enter the fray by starting something new, when there’s no turning back, you encounter another realization of loneliness.
Embarking on a risky path into the unknown leaves you just that–unknown. You teeter on the edge of the proverbial abyss and few of your friends will notice or be able to sympathize with your challenges. Are you ready? Do you want this life? If so, your expectations need evaluation.
After spending more than 10 years (15 now) running my own businesses, and planting churches, I can attest that there is little glamour in the pursuit. As an entrepreneur the appeal is you set your own course, be your own boss, follow your dream, and reap all the benefits (assuming there are any). The reality is steeped with disappointment, long hours, and little recognition. You’ll largely work alone, few will cherish your vision, and being underpaid is part for the course. If everything fails there’s no safety net either.
Church planting is similar, but with added hazards.
In church planting nobody is in it for the money. Accolades maybe, but money isn’t it. So that’s a bit different. After that, the risk is real. The moment you step outside the bounds of safety you are alone (to varying degrees). You may spend years wandering in the desert questioning most your every move and result. Unless you’re transplanting with a 100 Christians from a sending church, you will be tasked with existing and creating space for belonging in unknown places. This is often a lonely endeavour. Few inherently understand what you’re doing, and fewer still will participate. 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 before they’ll share the dream with you.
The new reality in a post-Christian context is the supreme amount of patience needed. You need years–perhaps decades–of time. Requirements also include a level of health and spiritual formation to withstand the accompanied trials and loneliness. You have to be okay with quiet, being by yourself, and facing the constant threat of failure. You will have to be a self-starter and move without fanfare. If you need the approval and affirmation of others, this isn’t a job for you.
None will come. Will you be able to survive?
The expectations will be high but the few things you can count on is the normality of loneliness. Perhaps it will only show itself in fits and starts. But often loneliness lingers and can cripple.
There needs to be a response in place to face these inevitabilities.
For one, it’s crucial to connect with like-minded people even if they’re not part of your tribe our church. These people may not even exist in your city, but having some regular meeting to hear from voices who share your experience provides required relief. Value the need to debrief and process our struggles with people who understand. I was lucky to encounter like-minded leaders relatively early in my journey. It saved me as a non-denominational church planter.
Most plant within teams or sending organizations. Trust the relationship with your coach or team. Few planters go off without some level of sending team, so rely on that team to use their gifts to complement your own. I would advise against doing any form of planting on your lonesome (like I did once). It’s unwise and leads to the barren places where you’re wondering if you’re the only soul on the field, and whether it’s all worth it.
if you pioneer then you will lead a charge down a path fraught with lonelieness.
Enter into the liturgy of lonely, but don’t stay too long. Prepare to face it, but fill your toolkit with ways to emerge relatively unscathed.