I've known Aaron Sherrell (who lives and ministers near Lexington, Kentucky) for 2-3 years. What Aaron will share with you was very painful for him as well as all who know him well. I admire his honesty and humility in making his experiences and the lessons learned available to a wider audience. Because of his experience in church planting he's a better Christian, husband, father and pastor! Romans 8:28 still works.
I've been asked to write about what I’ve learned from church planting; lessons that would be beneficial for those who are praying about, heading into, or already in the trenches of planting a church. There are many books and blog posts about what church planters should know, but I would like to share some experiences for which I wish I had prepared my heart.
I am a statistic. No person wants to hear or admit that, but I am. I failed at planting a church. There are many reasons why it happened and many excuses I can make, but the fact is, we closed our doors. You might be headed into the church planting process thinking it can never happen to you and you have everything lined up, but you must know that failure is always a possibility.
But here is the beauty in failure: God uses people who have failed. Think about David. He failed in monumental ways (adultery, murder, lying, you name it), but God used him in a mighty way. What about Peter? He denied Jesus. But on the day of Pentecost, 3,000 people came to know Jesus after Peter preached.
God is in the business of using people who have failed.
I shared more about my journey of failure here:
God has used my experiences and my failure to help a lot of guys on the church planting journey. Don't ever think that what you've done, what has happened, or how you failed is a waste. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve reflected on Romans 8:28 – that God truly does work for all things for good.
This is one you never see coming. For my family, it showed up a couple times and in different ways. The first was when we moved to the city where we were planting a church. We didn't have any close friends, no money, no insurance, and my wife got pregnant. We then found out she needed emergency surgery to save her life, but we lost the baby. I was broken.
Then friends left our church. We felt like the church plant was going well at the time. The launch team was growing. There was excitement and momentum. But then people I thought would die with us told us they didn't feel they should be part of our church anymore. I was devastated, frustrated, angry and, most of all, hurt. How could this happen? Didn't they understand the mission? Didn't they understand the vision? What had I done?
People will leave your church. Sometimes that’s good; other times it’s not so good. You have to be prepared for that and understand it’s not the worst thing in the world. Those who left got plugged in to another church they love, where they give and serve well. I think back to how selfish I was to want to keep them from the life-giving church of which they’re now a part. I was so foolish to think the church I planted was best for them.
I was never more depressed in my life than when I was planting a church. I woke up every day frustrated and angry about how things were going. I was upset about having to work an everyday job because we didn’t have enough funds. I was irritated that we didn’t having enough people serving. You name it, I was angry! This anger soon turned to depression along with the accompanying feelings of deep inadequacy and loneliness. And I felt I wasn’t able to share those feelings with anyone.
As a church planter, you are going to struggle with these feelings. It is an extremely lonely journey. You may feel like no one understands or cares for you or is praying for you, but that is not true. The enemy wants you to feel alone.
When planting a church, you need a strong support team. And I don't mean just people who agree to read your email updates; I mean people who will really support and pray with you, listen to your struggles, laugh and cry with you, and love and encourage you. You need them! Don't try to go it alone. The enemy wants you to feel defeated, discouraged, and depressed. Don't allow Satan to get a foothold in your life.
I know this isn’t the most encouraging church planting advice you’ll ever read. But I want you to be aware of the risks and struggles of church planting. Obviously many church plants succeed, but others don't. Know I’m praying for you. I pray God will bless your church, your efforts, and your family. I pray that whatever your church planting experience is, you will see the hand of God at work and how He truly is working all things for your good and His glory.