March 9, 2022

Don’t Plant Alone

Addressing the loneliness of church planting

by Iván Martí

Every year, approximately 4,000 new churches are planted. That means more than 12,000 church planters are commissioned during any given three-year period. Thousands of these planters are struggling, not just with the logistics and dynamics of birthing a new church but with loneliness and discouragement.

Going Far, Not Fast

The challenging reality is that regardless of the church model, approach, or heritage, most church planters face difficulties that often lead them to question if they should quit. Rick Warren, Saddleback Church founding pastor, said, “Planting a church is possibly the loneliest, hardest thing on the planet.”

During my first church plant, it was a lonely time. There was not a lot of support back then. The modern church-planting movement was starting, and I was planting a church in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, which was a new city for my family and me. I was also lead pastor for the first time. And while I had an amazing church-planting team in the trenches with me, I did not have other church-planter friends or a coach to guide me along the way. I was passionate and determined, but very soon I realized I was alone and needed to figure it out by myself.

Although my total dependence on the Lord led to a season of miraculous blessing beyond what I had experienced, I often reflected on how things could have been different for my family and me if I had received the support I acutely needed.

There is a well-known African proverb that states, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This could not be more true for a church planter.

The metaphor of “planting” churches comes from a long and arduous process of agriculture and yielding a harvest. A harvest requires the tilling of soil, seed planting, proper irrigation, pest suppression initiatives, and, most importantly, co-laborers to accomplish these steps. The final ingredient is time. If I could create a church-planting proverb, it would say: “If you want to go far, go together. If you want to go fast, don’t go.”

Lean into the Lord of the Harvest

There are two critical dimensions that need to be addressed before pursuing church planting. The first is a vertical dimension. Are you planting with God at your side, or is He going in front of you? One of the key characteristics for the church-planter archetype is their entrepreneurship: their God-given ability to start something out of nothing. Although entrepreneurship is a strength, the planter must submit themselves to God first, lest they start believing that planting depends on their skills and efforts—or worse still, that God is the proverbial “cherry on top” and the planter is the cake. Only through the submission of the heart can the planter allow God to take control of their dreams and efforts and, in total dependence on Him, move forward trusting in His wisdom and knowledge. The planter must be connected to God, continuously filled by and walking day-by-day with the Holy Spirit.

Friends, Jesus has been in the church-planting business for thousands of years and has planted in seasons of rain and seasons of drought. Lean into the Lord of the Harvest and watch what He can do with faithful laborers.

When I was a child, my father took me on a trip to a wax museum. I had never been to one before, and by the time I got home, I was scared stiff. When I lay in bed that night, I asked my dad, “Can you check under my bed and in my closet and make sure there’s nothing there? Can you leave the hallway light on? Can you stay for awhile?”

Each question was an attempt to keep him in my room a little longer. As long as he was near, I knew I had nothing to fear. The presence of my dad made all the difference.

It’s one thing to be scared; but being afraid and simultaneously feeling alone is almost unbearable. That is what was missing in my early days of planting. I felt alone and scared all the time. I felt like this work was entirely on my shoulders. I missed the encouragement Jesus offered His disciples. He didn’t call them to mission without also providing His presence and power. We only need the presence of our Heavenly Father in our lives, and the fear will go away.

God has promised to be with us—always—as we proclaim the good news that Christ saves sinners. It’s His work, and He is with us as we go and make, baptize, and teach disciples. Though you’ll likely walk through many dark days, you won’t walk alone. Your Father is near, and His presence is more than enough to help you keep going when. you’re not sure what tomorrow will bring.

Extending God’s Kingdom Together

The second dimension to address is horizontal. We need to work with others so we can be extending God’s Kingdom together. Church planting is a team effort and must be done with others. As the author of Ecclesiastes wrote, “By yourself you’re unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst. Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped” (Eccles. 4:12, MSG).

This team effort involves like-minded individuals whom God calls to work side by side with you. You need a core team that will work with you week by week in reaching the lost, healing the sick, and serving the community God has called you to reach. You also need an experienced multiplication coach to help you sort out any inevitable challenges you face. Prayer team support is also essential. Find people who are willing to pray for you, your family, and your planting team—and who have a burden for the lost in the community where you’re planting.

No one should plant alone. Church planting can be one of the most difficult and lonely callings out there, but it doesn’t have to be that way. The Alliance Church Multiplication Collective wants to play a crucial role in advancing Alliance church-planting efforts in the United States. We want to expand our Kingdom impact by creating a thriving community for our planters.

Community is critical, so we have woven it into the process of becoming a planter. Jesus sent out the disciples to by two, never alone. Paul had Barnabas and Timothy. Priscilla had Aquila. If we want to plant churches that model biblical community and missional impact, we need to be creating that kind of community for our planters.

We desire to see the vision God has put in our planters’ hearts come to pass. The Alliance Church Multiplication Collective can help—not only with resources but also with people who are willing to coach them through the process and remind them that they are not alone. We provide assessments of ministry, marriage, and financial health to make sure the planter is prepared for the rigors of church planting.

We hope to provide the support our planters need for the long haul, starting before they even launch. Ministry is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. And marathon runners need a street lined with people cheering them on. It’s those people who help give us the strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other. That’s what church planting is: pursuing the finish line even when it’s hard with the assurance that God and His people are running with you.

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