5 Church Planting Lessons after 5 YearsBy Dan Hammer
September 22, 2020
Five years ago, my wife Ann and I planted Harvest Bible Chapel Annapolis in Maryland. It has been the most exhilarating and exhausting ride of our lifetime to have the privilege of loving, shepherding, and serving all different types of people through the roller coaster that is life. Through it all, we have seen over and over how great our God is and how small we truly are. I want to share five lessons we have learned along the way on the incredible journey that is church planting in hopes that you can stand in awe of God’s glory and learn from our mistakes.
I am inadequate so I must be dependent.
In the fall of 2014, I sat in a room for four months with fifteen other church planters who were training to plant a new church or transition an existing church. We were told by our training director several times that God’s number one goal for us was not to plant or pastor a church well, but our own personal sanctification. Most of us gave lip service to that exhortation as we were more focused on how to plant a church. Five years later, I realize how foolish I was and how right our director was. God cares much more about who I am in him than what I do for him. As John declares, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). This a great thesis statement for church planters and pastors. God’s plan A for you and me is humility; his plan B is humiliation. I’ve experienced both over the last five years and I’ve found a deeper love for Jesus Christ in it and through it. I’ve learned the beauty of dependent prayer and experienced God’s divine power. I’ve learned that in church planting and life, it’s about my humility not my ability.
God is faithful and I am thankful.
Praise God that Jesus builds His church (Matthew 16:18) and not you or me. As Paul profoundly declares, “He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24). The number of times over the last five years that God has shown up and worked in a way that has blown our minds are too many to completely list here. He has transformed lives, provided tens of thousands of dollars for our launch fund, sent the right people at the right time to our church, provided encouragement at just the right time from unexpected places when we were weary and worn out, and he has continued to provide in ways that display his glory to our community in amazing ways. Has God always done what I wanted him to do when I wanted him to do it? No. What a fool I was for trying to get God to execute my plan instead of looking to live out his plan. There have been times where we haven’t had extra but there has never been a time where we haven’t had enough. Praise God! God’s plan has been and always will be better than my plan. It’s his church anyway.
God uses the ordinary to do the extraordinary.
The story of Harvest has always been the story of God at work. There is nothing special about us, and everything special about our great God. I’m continually drawn to the testimony of Peter and John before Jewish leaders in Acts 4. As Peter and John boldly testified to the power and pre-eminence of Jesus Christ, the Jewish leaders were shocked: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). At Harvest, we are just common men and women living on an uncommon mission. Over five years, we have seen God mold people of all different races, backgrounds, ages, languages, church experiences, and giftedness into one family that is living life together on mission for the glory of God. Every obstacle is an opportunity for God to display His glory. Don’t focus on what you think you can’t do, but continually step out in faith focused on all God can do (Ephesians 3:20-21).
God is glorified when we are unified.
Jesus prays for our unity as a church right before He goes to the cross, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through your word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21). Godly unity must be a priority and protected. We must major on the majors and give grace in the minors. We must consider others better than ourselves. We must seek to serve and not be served. We must be like Christ. Godly unity is protected as God’s glory is prioritized. We must remember that we are building Jesus’ church and not ours. In Jesus’ church there is a sacred Christ and no sacred cows.
Living on mission will cost you everything but it is worth it all.
Jesus tells all His disciples to count the cost; so must we. Planting a church will cost you friends, finances, sleep, vacation, financial security, hobbies, and, in my case, hair. You and your family will endure things you never thought possible and all of it will feel very personal. However, in it all, you’ll experience Jesus. He will be with you through it all. You realize it is worth it all because Jesus is worthy of our all. There is nothing like having a front row seat to see lives changed and families transformed through the power of the gospel. Five years later, one thing is very clear to me: the cost in church planting is great, but the reward is greater.