Almost ten years ago, we held our first service as a new church. God willing, our anniversary service will take place on September 24, my last day as pastor of that church.
Over the years, we’ve seen God move. I have so many stories of his faithfulness and provision this past decade. We still continue to see God move. That’s one of the things that makes it hard for us to move.
Here are five things I’d do differently, and five things I’d do again.
Five Things I’d Do Differently
- Assemble a stronger launch team. We had great people, but many of them had dual allegiances. We were their second church. I would have worked harder at assembling a stronger and larger team right from the start.
- Learn the community. I did all the research, but missed the implications of an important fact about our community: its transience. I knew it was transient, but I didn’t give enough thought to how this would affect our church. It was been one of the biggest factors shaping what ministry looks like in our context.
- Ask for more commitment. I would have emphasized covenant membership right from the start, and raised the commitment level. In hindsight, I would have attended a 9Marks Weekender sooner and applied what I learned. I would have asked people to stay longer, and challenged them to commit more.
- Raise more money. I spent the first year sharing the vision and raising money. It helped a lot. Our prayer and financial partners have helped the ministry continue for many years. But for most of our history, we were living pretty close to the financial edge. I would have tried to build a stronger financial cushion if I started again.
- Pray. I prayed these past ten years, but if I started again, I would pray even more. A lot more.
Five Things I’d Do Again
- Risk. John Piper is correct: risk is right. Church planting is risky, but the risk is worth it. We need more people to accept the risks associated with church planting, and to celebrate the church plants that, humanly speaking, didn’t pay off.
- Move in. We didn’t live far from Liberty Village, but it made all the difference to actually move into the community. We loved getting to know people. I aimed to become the community pastor. Based on the model we chose, I can’t imagine living elsewhere.
- Hang out with community members. When we started, we spent a lot of time hanging around people who weren’t Christians. We had them over. We went over to their place. We attended parties. We loved it. I realized that for many years, this had not been part of my pastoral ministry. I’m so glad that it is now.
- Protect the church. Early on, I realized I was responsible not to tolerate sin and dysfunction. I don’t love confrontation, but I realized we had to deal with issues as they came up before they became big deals. A few hard conversations, held early, have helped protect the church over these years.
- Enjoy the church. Planting and pastoring can be like raising children: you don’t take time to enjoy it until it’s too late. Somehow, God allowed us to stop and enjoy — really enjoy — what we were doing. A friend gave me advice one day: stop counting, and have fun. Focus on what God is doing instead of what’s lacking. It allowed me to refocus from seeing only challenges to feeling grateful for where God was at work.
It’s hard for us to come to the end of our time at Liberty Grace Church, but we’re excited about its future. God has been gracious in allowing the church to continue despite our mistakes. It has been both a challenge and an immense joy.