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Encouragement and Advice for New Church Planters

by Charles Davis

In this article, I will share some of my thoughts on leadership and relationships. God has given me the privilege to plant three churches, two in Venezuela and one in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I could make a much longer list of what NOT TO DO, from my own mistakes.

1. I would do my best to make a thorough assessment of my leadership strengths and weaknesses as I understand them. Then get some help from another person or two. This is always very hard for me but extremely helpful. Larry Crabb says, "most of us simply are not good at observing ourselves and reflecting honestly on what we see." "Servant leaders have genuine humility of heart and because of that a realistic and sound judgment as to their capabilities and their deficiencies, the things they do well and the things they do not."

2. I would go slowly, taking small steps. Loren Cunningham illustrates this initiating process by placing a fairly shallow pan on a table and then asking students to go outside to find small stones to put in the pan. It takes quite a number of stones before coming into sight from the side view. He says this demonstrates how long it takes to build a work properly before seeking a high profile. Zechariah asks, "Who despises the day of small things?" (4:10) I don't want to be in that number. I would seek to be especially sensitive to the timing of starting a "formal" worship service.

3. I would develop the habit of listening; that is, listening with focus and attention, hearing and receiving from others, as well as from God. "The mark of a mature person is the ability to REALLY LISTEN." (Mark Thibodeaux)

4. I would encourage team members, but do it genuinely. Encouragement can become flattery as a leadership technique to ingratiate ourselves to others. Followers can see through this and it is counter productive.

5. I would do my best to prevent the task from overriding the needs of persons. "Leaders don't inflict pain; they bear pain." At the same time, leaders are responsible for effectiveness. This is a delicate and challenging balance, but necessary. I like what Peter Drucker says, "Efficiency is doing the thing right, but effectiveness is doing the right thing." In the Kingdom we need the wisdom of the Lord to achieve it.

6. I would constantly seek to recognize and release the giftings and talents of others. Understanding the diversity of our gifts enables us to begin taking the crucial step of trusting each other. I would not do anything that someone else could do just as well or better. Max DePree says, "...a leader can tell the difference between living edges and dying frustrate the right to be needed, is to be at the dying edge." I would like to say "yes" to anyone on my team who asks the question, "Is this the place I can do my very best for the Lord?"

7. I would never even intimate to the team any doubts about the decision to plant the church. Tom Marshall says, "Few things erode confidence more than for people to have a goal presented to them, and to say Yes! to it, but then find the leader hesitating or having second thoughts."

8. I would earnestly seek the Lord, and possibly seek counsel from your leadership and overseers, before I corrected or rebuked a team member. The little "One Minute Manager" booklets give some good guidance on this.

9. I would make a concerted effort to use good judgment in pacing myself. There is always a tomorrow in which to do more. "The human body and the human psyche have limits and if they are stretched beyond those limits, we will suffer," and the ministry will suffer.

10. I would try to be constantly in tune with the quality of relationshps; that is, my relationship with others and the relationships among the team. Relationships with God and others are what it is all about. Stressed relationships drag down morale and contribute to disunity, which is deadly.

11. Facing criticism is inevitable. I would try to use it constructively. Usually there is at least a nugget of truth in every criticism. I would try to find it and discard the rest. I would not personalize it. I would consider its objective merits and as relating to an objective matter. Keeping people fully involved and informed helps avoid a lot of criticism.

12. I would try to keep the vision clearly before the people. This will keep things on course in bad times and in good.

13. I would do my best to keep focused. I think that the devil is lord of diversions. I would keep asking, "Will this move us forward? Will this move us toward our goals?" This is where we are challenged to choose the best over the good.

14. I would develop a flexible time line for reaching goals but try not to be in bondage to it. Missing a planned goal is not the end of the world.

15. I would devise a calendar plan for fixed times for recreational diversion, times of rest, times to be with my wife and, for certain, time each week for my own Sabbath rest on a day other than Sunday. This may have to be no more than 4-6 hours but must be a time of worship and waiting before the Lord; a time of "centering down" with Him, apart from the phone, plans, sermon preparation, etc. I would guard this time dearly, but also recognize that on rare occasions there has to be a "ministry of interruptions." Also remembering that often the urgent is not important.

16. I would perpetually remind myself of the words of Joshua to his people at the end of his life:

"Now I am about to go the way of all the earth.
You know with all your heart and soul that not
one of all the good promises the Lord your God
gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled;
not one has failed."
--Joshua 23:14 (NIV)

17. I would make every effort to keep fixed in my spirit the words of Paul to the Thessalonians:

"The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it."
--I Thess. 5:24 (NIV)

Charles Davis has served as a church planter, pastor, missionary, and pastor to missionaries for over 50 years and is the author of New Testament Church Life, A Model for Today. You can purchase his book here.