by Garth Leno
WINDSOR, ON – When we planted The Gathering Church in 2014, I was inexperienced. I was always the lead guy in a larger, been-around-a-long-time, denominationally top-heavy church, but I had never planted a church — nor did I ever want to plant a church!
Now that I’ve led established churches and planted a new church, I’ve discovered pastoral leadership in a church planting environment is vastly different from the established church.
What are some of the most common challenges we face as church planters leading the church we planted?
First-time pastors and first-time church planters often find it difficult to adapt to their new role and take ownership of it.
They just want to be friends with everybody. Most of us plant churches with friends at our side, and it can be tricky leading people who are your friends. We need to learn how to blend friendship, ministry, mission, and leadership.
One way of doing this is by asking for feedback and receiving it gracefully. My friend, Brian Bloye from West Ridge Church is fond of saying, “If I’m humble enough, I can learn from anybody!”
So, humble yourself, pastor, and ask for feedback without pushback (James 4:10). This will empower your people and help you adjust to your new role.
One of our roles as church planters is to support and coach our people so they can perform at the top of their game. There’s a fine line between leading well and not giving people the space to do their work.
A common misconception when becoming a church planting pastor is that suddenly you must control, micro-manage and oversee everyone’s work — double checking what’s been done. But this can quickly become stifling for the team. They won’t feel trusted, and they will soon disappear.
Explain how to do it. Show them how to do it. Let them do it while you watch. Then let them do it…and don’t interfere.
3. Leading as servants
While over-control can be an issue, on the other end of the spectrum is not giving people enough guidance on what is expected of them.
While people may know what individual tasks they’re supposed to complete, a pastor’s responsibility is to ensure everyone is fully aware of how their work aligns with the mission and vision of the church, and how it contributes and compliments the team. Pastors need to demonstrate humble, servant-leadership (Matt. 20:25-28; Mark 9:35).
Church planters may find it difficult to openly communicate with their team about expectations, or to bring up issues they are struggling with. However, it’s important to keep communication frequent and open so everyone is on the same page.
Rick Warren says, “Vision leaks, so you need to repeat, repeat, repeat.”
Ensure the vision and values of your church are clearly communicated at every level. Developing a culture of open communication within a team is essential if you want them to be effective.
Celebrate the wins on your team, however big or small. Make sure your team feels recognized. They will be motivated, and want to contribute more.
Recognize your people with a hand-written thank you note. It’s old school, I know, but there’s something magical about opening a note that comes in the mail.
Host a team meeting once a quarter and share more information with your leaders. Information is power, and when you share information and communicate frequently and effectively with your core team or leadership team, they will feel empowered and trusted.
One more thing: Always, always, always answer your email, texts and messages the same day.
Every staff meeting at our church includes an evaluation of the previous weekend. What went well, where did we fail and what do we need to change? We are honest with each other because we want to be better and do better in the future so we can make more disciples and plant more churches (Matt. 28:19). Evaluation needs to be in your DNA.
You have to assume the people who are “with” you in this church planting endeavor are people who are eager to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ and in the ministry of the church. One way to stimulate and support that kind of exponential growth in kingdom-focused people is frequent, consistent, loving evaluation. “What’s going well?” “What’s not going so well right now?” “How can I help?” “How can I pray for you?” If the goal is to present everyone mature in Christ (Col. 1:28), it will require some gospel-centered, grace-infused evaluation.
If you start early in your church planting experience, everyone will get used to it, and they won’t take offense when you come alongside them with ideas on how to be better and do better. It becomes part of your church culture.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Garth Leno lives in Windsor, Ontario Canada, with his wife Patty, and one daughter, Jamie. Two more children, Nathan and Kristin, are married with families of their own. Garth is the senior pastor at The Gathering, part of Send Detroit, which he planted with friends in 2014. He is also on the Send Canada Advisory Board. He has an M.A. in church planting from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a D.Min from Bethel Theological Seminary.