One of my mentors once described the difference between church plants and established churches at a conference. He said, "When you're in an established church, the conversation every week is: 'They're coming. What do we do?' Whereas in a church plant, your weekly conversation is: 'They aren't coming. What do we do?'" That anecdote resonated with me. I was a bright-eyed, dream-filled church planter in the process of gathering and preparing a launch team.
I was recruited to be a church planter at 21 years old, and Redeemer City Church launched when I was 22. The spirit of my mentor's anecdote was heavy on my heart as I nervously paced around on the evening of our soft launch. We were meeting in the second stage room at a local performing arts theatre. I want to prevent you from getting the wrong idea. This theatre was not fancy, hip, or even clean. The second stage room was only large enough to seat around thirty to thirty-five people comfortably. It was also decorated with bamboo and Christmas lights. This was the best that we could afford. Unfortunately, our budget wasn't as big as our dreams. If the Son of God was born in a manger, then I suppose a church can begin in a dirty downtown theatre.
Our band was rehearsing for our service as I paced around the building. I made my way into our room around thirty minutes before we were supposed to start. No lines were forming to get in, but I was still full of hope.
Suddenly, our first worshiper arrived! He appeared from around the corner, semi-dancing, semi-walking into the room. The middle-aged man's thinning hair was waving in the air as he awkwardly danced towards the seats. I forced a wave and a smile—trying not to show my actual reaction to his bare chest. His shirt was only buttoned up half-way, revealing a crop of chest hair that contrasted what was lacking on his head. It was an awkward way to start our church, and certainly not how I envisioned our first service.
The summer went on, and we consistently had a group of fifteen to twenty people. The church went on to its official launch in the fall of 2014. We didn't experience booming growth, but we did get to touch many lives.
Starting a new church is an odd experience. Every week we would show up to the theatre very early in the morning for set up and rehearsal. The thought was always in the back of our minds, "Is anyone going to show up?" You don't get to take anything for granted in church planting. I suffered awful anxiety every one of those early mornings. I'd pace around helping with set up, directing volunteers, and making jokes to keep the mood light. It wasn't easy work, so I'd turn all of our difficulties into humor. Laughter helped our team hold it together as the weeks turned into months. It also helped the anxiety I wrestled with.
Nevertheless, I still faced doubt, fear, and uncertainty for those early years. In church planting, you have to come to terms with the feeling of instability. Church attendance, volunteers, and money are not guaranteed and are usually inconsistent. In the beginning, you have this feeling that it could all be gone on any day. Once again, you can't take anything for granted. For this reason, I always felt like a fraud when I told people, "I am a church planter." Was I? As I said, everything we had built up could vanish in a day. So, I wrestled with doubt. When do I really become a church planter? When can I say that and believe it? Here's what I have learned: you cannot truly become something until you begin acting like it. Consider the story of Gideon in Judges 6-8. Israel was suffering from brutal oppression by the Midianites. Every year, they would ransack the Israelite tribes and destroy crops, fields, and livestock. Farmer's were forced to retreat into caves and hidden place to attempt to make a living for their families. Gideon was one of these farmers.
Whenever we meet Gideon, he is hiding in a winepress and threshing wheat. Yet, God comes to him and says, "The Lord is with you, valiant warrior" (Judges 6:12). Hiding in a winepress is not exactly the picture of a fearless warrior. But God saw something in Gideon that he was calling out of him. By the end of Gideon's story, he is proven to be one of the best military leaders in Israel's history and quite the fearless warrior. However, he only reaches the point of embodying the title of the valiant warrior by taking to first steps of obedience that God was calling him to.
I'm writing this article on the four year anniversary of the launch of Redeemer City Church. In the past four years, I've learned that the only way for me to really be a church planter is by being faithful to my calling. By following my calling, God has slowly been transforming me from a guy who says he's a church planter into a guy who indeed is a church planter. Now, when I tell people I am a church planter, I can say it with more confidence. The confidence doesn't come from myself or because I think I have proved something. The confidence comes from my calling and the experience of seeing God's faithfulness to Redeemer and me over these past four years. I think there are a lot of other people like me. There might be people like me reading this article. You may not be a church planter, but God has placed some great opportunity before you. He's given you a calling that feels overwhelming because it's so much bigger than you. You might be filled with doubt and fear. You're thinking that you are not ready for this calling, or that this kind of calling is only for another sort of person.
Take the lesson from Gideon—and from me—that God will transform you into the person he is calling you to be. Yet, that transformation will only begin after you answer the call and begin to take those risky steps of obedience. The only way you will find the peace and confidence to answer the calling that God is placing before you is by believing that he is with you, and he will remain faithful to you (Matthew 28:20). What might be possible for your life and for our world if you answered God's calling today? The Lord is with you, valiant warrior.