Church planters and church planting networks often forgo conversations about reasons for failure. Now is the time to deal with two concerns.
We planted Revolution Church six years ago. Leading up to that, I attended countless conferences, read tons of blogs and books, and gathered up as much information as I possibly could. Then, we planted, joined Acts 29 (which I love), have continued to get more training, and now I have the opportunity to train and coach church planters.
Sadly though, not every church planter who plants will finish. Not every couple who blazes the trail with excitement and passion with finish with excitement and passion.
Ironically, the reasons for failing, not finishing, falling out of ministry are usually the same.
What is sad about these the reasons is that they are the two least talked about topics on church planting circles.
Most church planters and pastors do not quit or fail in ministry because of theological issues or leadership skills. While this happens and you can lose your job because a denomination changes its stance on something or you fail in your leadership skills, that rarely happens.
The first reason pastors and church planters fail (that is not talked about enough) has to do with leadership health. I am stunned at the number overweight pastors, run down and tired church planters. We get excited about the preaching ability of a pastor but don’t ask him if he is resting well and taking his sabbath. It matters more if a pastor can raise enough money than if he is sleeping and eating well.
If you want a healthy church, have a healthy pastor.
This means a pastor is eating well, sleeping well, taking his vacation days, not preaching 50 Sundays a year.
This becomes the responsibility of the pastor as much as the church.
Here are a few things you can do as a leader:
1. Put into your calendar your day off, preaching break and vacation. Nothing happens if it is not on your calendar. I plan the Sundays I won’t preach over a year in advance so I can work series around them, plan my vacation and so Katie and I can make our schedule work for us instead of the other way around. It is almost Christmas, you should have your summer vacation planned (even if it is a stay-cation). Figure out what Sundays are low-attended Sundays and allow people to preach.
2. Educate your church and elders about leadership health and longevity. Your elders may not understand how important leadership health is. They may also not understand how draining ministry can be. I love being a pastor, but it is a job that never ends and can be relationally, physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally draining. By simply adding the spiritual aspect of ministry, you make this job different from others and that needs to be accounted for. Explain this, tell them your plan for health and longevity, explain what you will do when you aren’t preaching and how this benefits you and the church.
3. Train people to do what you do. When we planted Revolution, I preached 50 times the first year and 49 the second. It was a disaster. Some of that had to do with my pride but also because I had no one else. So, train other preachers. If you don’t have any, use video sermons from another pastor. Will someone get mad about this? Maybe, but that doesn’t matter.
4. Crush the idols that keep you from healthy leadership. Pride is a reason many pastors are unhealthy and don’t rest well or eat well. Ask for help. Do some research. Admit to someone that you aren’t sleeping well, that you are using alcohol to help you sleep or taking sleeping pills and now you are addicted. Don’t hide in the shadows because eventually you will run out of steam and quit.
5. Create a healthy culture in your staff. I get an email almost every week from a lead pastor or staff pastor asking, “How do I rest well? How do I eat well? What do I do when my lead pastor or elders want me to be available 24/7?” The culture in many churches works against healthy leadership, but also biblical principles. Jesus had no problem walking away from everything to rest and recharge. He did it at the worst and most inopportune moments as well. He was also available when people needed him. He balanced that well. If you want to be healthy, you will probably have to train your staff as well. They won’t learn it at any leadership conference or church planting boot camp sadly.
The second reason pastors and church planters fail (that is not talked about enough or at least correctly) deals with the pastor’s wife. It is helpful how many church planting networks are now assessing marriages and looking at the character of a man and how he pastors his wife. I’m not talking about that, but what happens in her heart.
One thing I hear from every network I encounter is how much they care about a church planter’s wife. Yet, when you attend any of their meetings, conferences, boot camps (or whatever else they call them), a wife is absent. We train him and expect her to come along for the ride. We ask him about his calling and assume she’s as excited as he is. We hear him talk about vision and leadership prowess and never ask if she’s excited about attending the church that exists only in his head.
I remember hearing the pastor of a fast-growing church talk about his wife and what she did at the church as far as serving goes, and he said, “I’m just glad she attends.” And he was serious. After the nervous laughter everything moved on and I thought, “That’s our bar? She attends.”
Sadly though, church planters, their networks, and conferences and books would say it is more than that and they have a higher expectation than that, but our practices don’t back that up.
What if the priority was placed on caring for a church planter’s wife like we do for a pastor? What if we had an expectation that she was as bought in as he is? What if when we ask him how he is growing and what is he reading, we ask her the same question? What if we talked about leadership health for him and for her? What if we were as impressed by how much time he gives his wife to refuel her soul as he does to refuel his own? What if we cared as much about connecting wives with each other as we do of having the brotherhood relate to each other?
I think a lot would change.
While affairs and pornography take down a lot of pastors, part of why it leads to that is we have not placed a high emphasis on the health and well-being of a church planter’s wife. We talk about the importance of marriage and staying together, but what about the importance of care?