Here’s a guest article from Dan White Jr. He’s got good stuff to say, but do you think anything is missing? Leave a comment and let us know what you think about Dan’s choices. What other priorities should be established when attempting to plant a church?
By Dan White
It’s been a few years for me since my first year of church planting. Back then, I was coming off 15 years of full-time paid pastoral ministry and was uncertain how to make the transition.
To be honest, I was in some detox from swimming in a plethora of resources, programs, buildings, and titles. I had never learned what ministry looked like “on the cheap.” I had grown accustom to a hearty portion of ministry artillery that I didn’t want to extrapolate over the top of my new context.
I made truck load of mistakes.
But there are at least five choices I made that I would make again and that I would recommend to you.
1. I Got A Day Job
I filled out resumes. I scoured the newspaper. I applied for jobs. I was like a fish out of water after working within the four walls of the church for so long.
My wife and I talked about the financial sacrifices we needed to make. I couldn’t find a job that paid more than $12 an hour.
I did feel some identity crisis when people asked me what I did for a living. Was I still a pastor? What was my status? I struggled with those questions.
I don’t regret working a blue collar job. It only made sense in my blue collar city.
Certainly, the juggling act of planting a church and working a 9 to 5 job is tenuous. That tension pressed me to slow down, equip others and take the long view to building a missional church.
Not to mention, getting a job took a huge financial strain off the back of our nimble church.
I’m still bi-vocational but now my income is split evenly between leading our church and working in our city. Our church has made the executive decision not ever to pay me full-time. That’s not for everyone, but it has been vital to our missional impulse. We’d rather equip and employ more parishioners as we multiply for mission.
I have suspicions that the future of mission in the West may require this from us rather than being optional.
2. I Got Coffee with Local Leaders
As a pastor I thought of my church through a competitive lens. I had a small vision for God’s activity outside my work. I didn’t like that trait in me.
I had heard and read all the statistics about how unchurched my city was. Still, I had intuitions that there were faithful leaders, pastors and parishioners who’ve been in this city plugging away for years for the mission of God. Rather than come in and posture our church as the answer to the cities lostness, I wanted to do my best to lean in and listen. So, I got a thousand cups of coffee.
I stalked long time pastors no matter their creed or color, bought them a cup of coffee, pummeled them with questions and zipped my lips. I met some of the most amazing saints who knew more about the cities context and what it needed than I ever would from my newbie status. I met civil right leaders who informed me of the race relations in our city. I met with long-time activists who had bumps and bruised from pressing into brokenness in our city. I met old-time black preachers who knew every nook and cranny of the cities needs. I met 30-year residents who opened up my eyes to what was budding and beautiful here.
I still pepper my schedule with sitting at the feet of local long-time leaders, and it has transformed my footprint as a church planter.
3. I Got A Community Together
I remember hearing the call to plant, but I had some prerequisites for God. The truth is, I got stubborn with God about one issue.
I felt a little like Jacob fighting with God’s spirit about what I wanted; I was not going to plant a church alone. I wanted to plant with a community of people. I had a lot of other demands on God that I didn’t get but I gratefully got that one.
From day one, my wife and I invited other leaders to surrender their existing plans to participate, contribute and give their lives to this mission. The vision was clear: this was going to be painful, require faithfulness and call us to move into the same neighborhood. In time, we would see something beautiful birthed out of our pain. The Kingdom would sprout up amongst us.
I believe polycentric leadership. Polycentric leadership is a shared approach to leading. It defers to each other’s giftedness. It values the rigorousness of conversation. It is hinged together by covenant and cultivates a rhythm of life together.
As the defacto Apostle, I discipled this team, pouring a ridiculous amount of hours into our formation for community and mission. While I did set the course, our language, energy and expectations moved us incrementally toward sharing leadership. In that disciple-making space we discussed, disagreed, contended and almost gave up.
But we did survive.
To this day, that intensive period superglued us together, making us strong enough to forge the difficult path ahead. I give God the credit for sustaining our church plant, but I’m convinced our church would not be alive if it weren’t for that school of hard knocks where we formed a cluster of servant missional disciples.
4. I Got My Cry On
I’m not a big crier. I’m actually known for being a bit mysterious and measured in my responses. But I cried a ton during that first year.
The emotional ups and downs were like a roller coaster. Very few things went according to plan. People that I counted on were not there when I wanted to count on them. I spoke bold vision into the air, but I miscalculated many times and was humbled by the elements. Money was scarce. People came and went.
I found myself broke open by the constant dashed hopes, but this became fertile space for God’s Spirit. I began to share this and even cry in front of our burgeoning team. I shared my doubts and my uncertainties.
Did this rattle their confidence in me? Well, I found out many felt the same way. We all felt fear and rather than letting it build up under the carpet we brought it out and faced it. I looked weak at times, but God sustained me in those fragile moments.
I needed to cry and give others permission to cry as well. Those tears were a gift. God fortified us as we presented ourselves as we were; weak, uncertain, scared and trying to figure it out. I look back at that time, and I’m grateful the chemistry of our team was not one of merely being producers for a task. Our chemistry was one of a team learning how to be a community.
5. I Got a Rhythm of Life
I’m an organic guy. I love wide open space and spontaneity.
Life, however, is built upon rhythms. In the natural world bees form their honeycombs methodically. Robins put together their nests piece by piece. Planets loop around the sun in a strict cycle. All of these are wild expressions in nature, yet none of them is spontaneous and random. They are exuberant, but they are organized around rhythms.
I lived by anti-rhythms. If our team was going to form a way of life that drew us into each other and drew us into our neighborhood, we needed a pattern. We needed a rhythm that shaped us towards those desires.
Our community needed to move out of the abstract and into some particular patterns we could commit to and apply together. We fashioned daily, weekly, monthly and yearly patterns. The goal was not to reach some level of self-congratulation but rather partnership towards maturing together. We sought a recovery of simplified, sacred, shared-rhythms that molded us.
We are all human so our joy, energy and emotional fortitude towards living as the church ebbs and flows, which makes it paramount to covenant to foundational patterns. We constructed, committed to, and massaged into practice shared rhythms around the table, simple shared rhythms of presence in our city and scaled down rhythms of discipleship.
Years later, these rhythms are at the heartbeat of our church. Not everyone participates full-bodied, but there is always a hot center of people living into them. These lived-rhythms form a gravitational pull for our wider church community.
These are just a few choices I made, a few I’d make again. Don’t worry, there are plenty I wouldn’t want to repeat. Maybe I’ll share those next time.
Dan White Jr. is the leader of a developing network of communities in the urban neighborhoods of Syracuse, NY. You can learn more about Dan on his blog.