I planted three churches. One didn’t make it. It was closed down within a year. I felt like a failure. I felt like I didn’t measure up to expectations, others, or even my own.
I gave my all to do something that I was convinced God had called me to do, and I still failed at it. It’s a discouraging and lonely place to be.
That’s why Tom Bennardo is a God-send to church planters like me. Tom’s book, An Honest Guide to Church Planting is a must-read for EVERY church planter.
Tom’s recent interview by Exponential is jammed-pack with wisdom and encouragement.
Here are 3 lessons, 2 questions, and 1 takeaway from the interview.
Lesson 1 – Smile, stupid. It’s supposed to suck.
If someone told you that church planting is easy, they were lying to you. It’s hard work. Lots of gifted and godly people fail at it. I’m one of them.
And there are many others who “succeed” at church planting but still suffer PTSD from the experience. When your church is failing, you begin to question yourself.
- Am I not working hard enough?
- Am I doing something wrong?
- Why is it so hard?
Tom reminded me that it’s not supposed to be easy. Everyone struggles.
Tom asked, “What if God told you that this is how it’s supposed to work? Would you be okay with it?”
I wished someone reminded me when I faced hardship that it wasn’t something wrong with me. There’s nothing wrong. Church Planting is just hard.
Lesson 2 – No one really knows what they’re doing.
Books, consultants, and “experts,” tell you all the best practices of church planting. They have a specific model and game plan that they want you to follow. But every situation is different. In the Bible, God does the same thing the same way. He changes his methods. And he goes by a different clock and scoreboard than we do.
Tom also talked about some of the “lies people tell church planters.” He questioned conventional wisdom and says that Church Planters believe many falsehoods such as:
- Zeal + Giftedness + Hard Work + God’s Blessing = Success
- Missional engagement is the best evangelism strategy
- Closing the back door is the best way to grow your church
The truth is, every church plant is unique and different. No one really knows what they’re doing. Everyone is just making it up as they go along.
So if you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing, take heart. You’re not alone.
Lesson 3 – Success doesn’t change what’s most important.
What do Church Planters want most? What do they pray for most? What is the most important thing to a Church Planter?
More people? Success? Fast growth? Financial self-sufficiency?
It should be none of those things. What is most important is how God sees you.
And nothing you do, in success or failure, can change how God sees you.
I am reminded that, in Christ, the Father sees me as his son. That what he said about Jesus also applies to me. He says, “You are my son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.”
God loves me. And nothing can change that. Not my failures, or even my successes. Success, or failure, will not change what is most important. That I am loved by my Father in heaven.
Question 1 – Am I “church planting” or “church plowing”?
This was almost a throw-away comment by Tom in the interview. But it stuck out to me.
When I closed down my 2nd church plant, I was devastated. I felt like a failure. When we closed it down, I prayed that God would still do a work in that community.
Years later, God sent another leader to do just that. We became friends and he is doing a great job. He’s even meeting in the same exact building that we used to meet in.
Paul said, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God made it grow.”
Of course, it would be nice to be called to be the one to bring in the harvest. But God is calling some of us to “plow” and not to “plant.” And that’s okay.
If God has called you to plow, do your best to make the furrows straight.
Question 2 – How do we help church planters stay strong yet keep a soft heart?
One of the lies that Tom discussed was, “The strongest and best leaders are not affected by criticism.”
Some portray Church Planters uniquely gifted people who are impervious to criticism. But that’s not true.
In order to ward off criticism, these leaders have to work hard to build up a hard armor over their hearts. And Tom says that this is recipe for disaster.
Building up your emotional armor will your ability to be sensitive and vulnerable to others. It will hurt your soul and your relationships. Tom warns that this has a tendency to lead to hidden sin and addiction.
We need to show Church Planters how to face difficulty while remaining vulnerable.
We need to take better care of our church planters.
Church Planting is vital to the fulfillment of the Great Commission. But it takes a toll on the planter and their families.
Planters need a safe place to go when they are hurting and discouraged. They need a place to complain and be vulnerable.
Church Planters need mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders by their side.
This is an important and unique calling that men like Tom Bennardo have embraced.
As a church planter myself, I am grateful for Tom Bennardo. Although I have never met him in person, God has used him to bless and encourage me to keep going.
Watch the replay here of Tom Bennardo discussing the lies people tell church planters.