Reflections From a New Pastor For New Church Planters
My church recently celebrated our one-year anniversary as a church. Praise God for his faithfulness. We’ve aspired to be a gospel-preaching, Bible-believing church for his glory in an area that’s been overlooked in church-planting efforts.
Here are ten reflections from our first year as a church—two truths to be reminded of, three warnings to prepare for, three exhortations to obey, and two promises to cling to.
TRUTHS TO REMIND YOURSELF OF (OFTEN)
1. The Gospel Must Be of First Importance (1 Cor. 15:1–4).
The gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ. It’s good because God created humanity in his image, after his likeness, but we sinned against him and deserve his wrath. That’s why God sent Jesus to live a perfect, sinless life, to die on the cross for our sins—taking on the wrath we deserved—and to rise again on the third day for our justification.
This is the message that sinners must hear to be saved. And Jesus calls us pastors to preach this message. The gospel should be central to everything we do as a church because it’s the central message of the Bible. It is of first importance. If you make it second, I don’t know how you can be called a church.
2. Success = Faithfulness (1 Cor. 4:1–2)
A successful church is a faithful church. Success is not defined by your growing membership or your increasing baptisms; it has little to do with the size of your budget or building. That’s nowhere in the Bible; faithfulness is the barometer.
And as we strive to be faithful, God by his grace will produce fruit.
WARNINGS TO PREPARE FOR
3. Planting a Church Is Good but Hard Work.
Church planting is hard. Church planting in the city is even harder. We’re in Southeast Washington, DC. Satan hates Jesus, and he hates Jesus’ people, the church. He will do anything that he can to discourage, deter, and distract us from Jesus and his mission.
Another enemy is sin, which runs rampant everywhere in the world and expresses itself in different ways in different contexts. For us in the Congress Heights neighborhood of DC, sin shows itself in the violence and drug activity in our community. Sin also shows itself in me (the pastor) and our congregation. Mix all of this up, and planting has its difficult moments. But it’s good work, because it’s God’s work.
4. Church Planting Is a Team Effort (Titus 1:5; 1 Pet. 5:1; Mark 6:7).
A plurality of elders is the normal, biblical pattern. There’s too much ministry in the work of church planting for one pastor.
5. People Will Leave.
It’s inevitable. People will leave your church, even at the beginning, for good and bad reasons.
Pastor, be loving and loose with the members of your church. You don’t own them; God does. Try to love members well who transition to other churches and trust the Lord with the process.
EXHORTATIONS TO OBEY
6. Preach the Word.
Pastors are called to preach the Word (2 Tim. 4:2). In church planting, pastors can find themselves doing a lot. But what we must devote ourselves to is prayer and the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4). Delegate as much as you can (Eph. 4:12). There is nothing more important.
I’ve heard this saying from a few pastors I respect: “I’d rather let everything in the church fail than the preaching of God’s Word.” This must be our posture, especially in the early years.
7. Shepherd the Flock.
But church planters aren’t just preachers; they must also be shepherds. They must keep in mind Paul’s farewell address to the Ephesians elders: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). They must never forget Peter’s exhortation: “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2–3).
We must know our sheep, care for them, love them, teach them, exhort them, and admonish them. May we shepherd our flocks like Jesus, love like Jesus, and lead like Jesus.
8. Love Your Community.
The gospel is the only saving message. So, hold out Jesus to people and trust him to do the saving. At the same time, an implication of the gospel message is doing good works (Titus 3:8, 14). Think about how our Lord preached but also met urgent physical needs.
Good works are not the gospel, but they are compelled by the gospel. Gospel people do good works.
PROMISES TO CLING TO
9. Jesus Builds His Church (Matt. 16:18, Ps. 127:1).
Jesus promises to build his church and that nothing will be able stop it—not even the gates of hell. This is a great encouragement and reminder to me as a new pastor of a new church; Jesus is the one doing the building.
And whatever he builds succeeds. In the end, we win. So, when there are challenges in the church or the community, this is a great promise to bank on and rest in: Jesus cannot fail.
10. Jesus Is with His Church.
Jesus is with the church he builds. He promises to be. He says in Matthew 28:20, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
He has been with us through all the highs and lows in our first year. Praise God for his presence with us in this new gospel work. And, he is with you, Christian. Be encouraged.