Lessons From a Church Planter
By Troy Maxwell
It was a warm and sunny Tuesday afternoon in Richmond, Virginia. The autumn leaves were turning, and the wind was blowing them off the trees as I drove to my house. But the beauty outside didn’t match the tension in my heart.
At that time my wife, Penny, and I had been praying for three months about a dream in our hearts: planting and pastoring a church. We knew the dream was from God, but it was difficult to fit ourselves into it. We’d often heard the statement, “If the dream is too big for you, it must be from God.” That sounds great when you’re seated in a church service. But when you’re facing an audacious, super-sized dream, it’s a whole lot different. Even though both of us were pregnant with this growing seed, we had no idea how to start.
The first step, we surmised, was to figure out where—and this was the cause for my tension that autumn day: I felt I knew where we were supposed to go, and I hadn’t talked to my bride about it yet. As I pulled into my driveway, I wondered if she’d be as shocked as I’d been. Would she shoot down the location, or would she like the idea? Would she be willing to pick up our three kids and leave behind the comfortable city we’d called home for 33 years?
I called Penny outside, and we stood together in the driveway. I told her I’d been praying that day and felt I knew where we were supposed to launch the church. But she blew me away when she said the same thing: She’d also been praying and felt she knew where we were supposed to begin our journey.
This made the moment even more tense. What if they were two different places? There was no use delaying the moment. “I’ll count to three and we’ll say it at the same time,” I suggested. Penny agreed, her face showing the same anticipation I felt. “1… 2… 3… CHARLOTTE! WHAT?!” We’d both said the same thing!
“…Get out of your country, from your family and from your fathers house, to a land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1).
Nearly 9 years later, the dream has become a reality. We planted Freedom House Church in Charlotte, North Carolina in 2002, and in that time it’s grown from 4 people to over 1500 in attendance. I want to share two lessons we’ve learned in this nearly decade-long span of ministry.
Lesson 1: You’ll never know your faith until you’ve been in a good fight.
Don’t kid yourself: If you’re a church planter, if you want to plant a church one day, or if you want to be involved in ministry in anyway, you will have to fight! You’ll have to push for what you believe in, because faith only grows when it is tested. And testing will come throughout the journey. Speaking of journeys, I once heard someone say “the journey is the destination.” Every time you think the finish line is in sight, it moves. The journey is where your faith in what God has told you will sustain you.
We’ve had multiple tests of faith so far in our journey, and they keep coming. Do I really believe we can accomplish what God said? Do I really believe the dream is possible when the situation is impossible? Do I really believe we’re going in the right direction when everyone is telling me I’m wrong? This is the fight, and this is when you find out the depth of your faith. The great thing about God tests is you never fail; you just get a retake! Here’s the key:
My faith is not in what but in who!
The whats are subject to change, so I don’t hang my hat on them. Instead I trust in the who… God! He is the Promise-giver. In the midst of this dream, He has a handle on things I don’t know even exist. Proverbs 3:5-6 has always been a foundational scripture for me: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and He will direct your paths.”
Lesson 2: Ministry grows according to your pain threshold.
This is not a popular idea, but it’s a valid one. Church conferences often feature a mega-church pastor who shares about all God’s doing through the church. He tells all the great ideas, influence and growth they’re experiencing; then everyone cheers, the lights flash, and the video plays. And these things are great. But what that pastor doesn’t typically share is the pain he’s experienced to see the church reach that level.
There is pain in ministry. Someone who said he’d be there forever leaves. A staff member tries to start an internal revolt. A family leaves and tries to take other families with them. People talk about you and stab you in the back… in the name of Jesus! It’s not all bad, and the good outweighs the bad. But daggone it (remember, I’m from North Carolina), it hurts sometimes!
How I process pain determines how far the ministry will grow. We all have a lid of pain, a pain threshold. We have to allow God to raise that lid. It helps to surround yourself with the right people, leaders who have been through similar pain. And for me, having my best friend (my wife) to hold my hand has allowed us to experience continued growth in ministry. I don’t hold on to the pain, but I do allow it grow me.
“Count it all joy when you fall into various trials…” (James 1:2). It’s not the most popular verse, but it’s both sobering and encouraging.
Whatever dream you may be facing, let me encourage you: You can do it! You will make it through! God did put that dream in your heart, so dream big dreams! Take audacious faith steps! You do have enough faith to make it happen! Don’t quit! God will never leave you nor forsake you! He’s right there! Amen.
Troy Maxwell is a passionate minister that shares relevant, uncompromised Bible teaching with energy and conviction. Troy enjoys drawing out and developing the leadership qualities in others and seeing them live to their fullest potential. Troy is married to Penny Maxwell and together they pastor Freedom House Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. Visit their website for additional resources and online messages.