Written by Linda Seidler
It was 2010, and we had a big dream. My husband, Tim, and I had been serving in ministry for almost 12 years when we decided to plant The Experience Church right in our hometown in the hills of West Virginia. Up to that moment, we were founders of and were leading “The Experience Ministry”, a 30-member multi-denominational crusade team that traveled regionally for seven years.
The transition from traveling ministry to church plant was so incredibly exciting! We were those starry-eyed visionaries who were believing big and asking for big things from a big God (Ephesians 3:20.)
We truly believed with all of our hearts that our supernatural God could do anything at anytime. But we also had a bit of practical sense to know that in order to achieve our dream, we had to get some strong legs under us so we wouldn’t collapse from the mountainous weight of responsibility that was quickly unfolding. And honestly, at that point, most of the time we were making it up as we went along.
Can you relate?!
Looking back to the beginning, there are so many aspects of church planting that I really, really wish I would have known. I’ve narrowed it down to just a few that I hope will help you on your church planting journey…
1. I wish I would have known to become associated quickly with a network or group of churches.
To get the support and encouragement you need, search for some seasoned church planters who are doing church similarly to you. Why? Because they have already been where you are right now! They have experience in starting something from nothing. They are intimately familiar with how to deal with and overcome the hurts and heartache associated with the people they are leading. They understand the dynamics of developing leadership and how infrastructure will strengthen your internal ministries. They have learned that there is just as much a business side of church as there is a spiritual side. And the list goes on and on. This resource has proven to be invaluable to us, and what I have found is that church planters are eager to help other church planters along their journey (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.)
2. I wish I would have known to realize there are pioneers and settlers, and my church needed both.
Let me explain. A pioneer is someone like you and your spouse–a visionary who is willing to grab onto the mission, forge the way, work hard, push forward, and do whatever it takes to see it to fruition. Most pioneers have great stamina, and stay focused on what the next step is to propel the church forward. Now the other person needed in the church is the settler. The settler enters the picture after the pioneer has already paved the way. Settlers come to a church after it has existed for awhile and works in the ministries that have already been established. When I understood the dynamics of both types of people, I knew they were both necessary to make our church work its best. It was an a-ha moment for me. I was able to see these differences were actually advantageous and needed for our church to function at optimum capacity (1 Corinthians 12.)
3. I wish I would have known that even the toughest days wouldn’t last forever.
There were days when I wanted to throw in the towel. There were seasons when I didn’t think I would make it to the next one. There were moments in my church planting life that brought me so much joy that I thought I’d explode, and then others where the word exhaustion was an understatement. If you are on the front lines of church planting, then you understand the mental, physical and spiritual endurance required for a church to grow. It takes a ton of hard work and needs cultivated, watered, fertilized and tended to everyday–and we know that God is who grows the church–yet we are the ones who do the physical work. It requires a daily practice of endurance and perseverance and stamina, and it is something God has equipped you to be able to do! And I want to remind you, just as others have reminded me, to keep on keeping on because this tough season will NOT last forever (Galatians 6:9; Colossians 1:11.)
And although not in detail, here are some other important things I wish I’d known:
4. Not everyone who starts with you will go the distance with you.
5. Give yourself permission to be imperfect.
6. While it’s important to be authentic, it’s not necessary to be transparent with everyone.
7. Don’t try to be all things to all people.
8. Develop a tough skin while maintaining a soft heart.
9. Your heart will be broken many times over, but you will survive.
10. Learn to let go of hurts and forgive quickly.
Written by Tiffany Cooper
My husband, Herbert, and I often joke that we didn’t know what we were doing when we planted our church in 2002. We laugh but it’s completely true. We first felt the call to plant a church in the spring of 2001. We had never been part of a church staff but that didn’t slow us down. We moved full steam ahead, full of enthusiasm and faith, ready to reach people who were far from God. I wish I knew then that reaping a plentiful harvest according to Matthew 9:37 was also plenty painful.
As a church planter, I prayed for a huge harvest of people. I joyfully gave my whole self to the call. The enormous amounts of time invested, the physical sacrifice of being a mobile church, even living in a season of uncertainty could not deter my passion to reach my city for Christ. However, my gleeful naivety was soon smacked with the reality that there was pestilence among the harvest.
Pestilence. It is deadly, harmful and destroys crops before the harvest. It comes in different forms but each type has the potential to corrupt. Many times, it comes in the form of people who may have started out with a pure heart, but eventually began to want their own agenda instead of the one we felt God desired for this new church. In our first year as a church planter, I encountered various types of difficult people:
- People who openly questioned our calling. (That was the first time in my journey as a church planter that I cried and felt such deep pain. Even now I can recall how blindsided I felt by the betrayal.)
- People who tried to use their power to control our decisions. “I’ll do this for you if you do what I want you to do.”
- People who wanted us to add ministries and do things “like our old church did.”
- People who were never satisfied. They always shared a complaint but never a solution. And certainly not a compliment.
- People who would stir dissension among others.
And that was just our first year as a church.
Thirteen years later I can tell you that I’ve encountered many more types of pestilence as I sow and reap in ministry. I can also tell you with 100% certainty that we must learn how to deal with difficult people or they will not only harm the harvest, they will also steal our vision, passion, focus, joy, and more. So, how should we deal with difficult people? Pastor Rick Warren shares four powerful truths from the life of Christ:
Jesus had to deal with a lot of difficult people. Here are FOUR methods he modeled through his life:
- Realize you can’t please everybody (John 5:30). Even God can’t do that! One wants rain while the other demands sunshine.
- Refuse to play their game (Matt. 22:18). Learn to say no to unrealistic expectations. Confront them by “telling the truth in love.”
- Never retaliate (Matt. 5:38-39). It only lowers you to their level.
- Pray for them (Matt. 5:44). It will help both of you. Let God handle them.
Make this Bible verse your goal this week, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Rom. 12:18 NIV)
Romans 12:18 has been my comfort each time I encounter a difficult person. No matter the situation, even in the midst of pain, I desire to do what I can to keep the peace because I know that obeying God’s word is always best.
In my life, keeping the peace has meant:
- that sometimes I have that much needed difficult conversation in love and sometimes it means that I simply keep my mouth shut.
- that I look beyond a person’s words and/or actions aimed at me to something deeper. Perhaps I’m an easy target for other issues in their life.
- that I choose to accept that I’ve done all I can in a difficult situation even though someone may talk badly about me long after they’ve left the church.
- that I choose to love and not retaliate. It’s easier to love when you view it as an act of obedience to Christ.
- that I pray. I pray for each person involved and for each person who could be affected.
Our response to difficult people will determine our harvest. It’s not about what they have done; it’s about how we respond. As servant’s of Christ, we must do what we can to “live at peace with everyone”, to love beyond our own capacity, and pray, pray, pray.
Friends, no doubt, there is plenty of pain in ministry but God’s harvest IS way more plentiful. Continue to dig deep and sow seeds in your city. Tend to your field, cultivate it, nourish it, and protect it. As you sow, stay watchful for pestilence but never let the pestilence overtake you. You are the keeper of your field, entrusted with God’s precious harvest. Plant, plant, pull, plant, plant, pull, plant, plant, and REAP! You were created for such a time as this!
Written by Trisha Davis
My husband, Justin, and I planted our first church in 2003. I was completely clueless as to what we were getting ourselves into but we had a vision and passion to see people find their way back to God. In those early years I found myself becoming a jack of all trades. I often lead in areas of ministry out of obligation rather than calling because I thought that’s what good pastor’s wives do.
Three years into our church plant and over seven hundred people later, I operated out of a posture of bitterness and resentment, rather than a burden to help people grow in their relationship with Christ. Although our church was thriving, Justin and I were struggling and our marriage imploded. I was so caught-up in my quest to find value in what I was doing in ministry and in my relationships with others, I lost site of where my true value comes from.
What I wish I would have known about church planting is that finding your value in Jesus, above all else, will bring clarity to your capacity to engage in your calling AND have healthy relationships in your current season of ministry.
When we find our value in who we already are in Christ, the overflow of our relationship with Him, allows us to engage in our calling and thrive in healthy relationships.
So how do you begin to practically live out your calling in ministry and continue to have healthy relationships? It begins as you examine and get honest about your capacity to engage in relationships and calling in your current season. In other words, ASK A LOT OF QUESTIONS! Become an expert about YOU.
Here are 3 key questions to bring clarity to your capacity to engage in your calling and relationships in your current season of ministry.
•What occupies most of your time in a given week?
Finding out this information will take effort and humility. Begin by using a simple calendar to track what you do in a given day for seven straight days. If you’re anything like me, you will be surprised by the truth your calendar reveals about your ability to effectively manage your time.
•What are you passionate about?
This is often the first question to finding the path back to your calling. Your calling as a pastor’s wife or woman in ministry isn’t about playing roles your congregation wants you to play. Being a pastor’s wife or woman in ministry, is understanding how your God given giftings can be used to glorify God.
•Who are you building relationships with?
When you have a clearer view of what occupies the majority of your time, and have clarity of your calling, you can then begin to create space to engage in healthy relationships. So how do you practically begin to build healthy relationships?
Here are a few things that I have implemented in my life as a church planter to help me build healthy relationships:
Be intentional with your relationships.
Carve out time to define who are your MVP’s, VIP’s and RIP’s.
MVP’s are the people who are the most valuable in your life. This is your husband and children. Your family. This is the VERY SMALL group of ladies you can be real an honest with. Those women who see beyond your title and love you well in your current season of life and ministry.
VIP’s are the key relationships that keep you healthy emotionally, physically and spiritually. These are the people who help you stay healthy, growing and challenged. These are your mentors, counselors, bible study leader, small group, fitness coach and yes… even your doctors and dentist.
RIP’s are the people, who given the time and space, will unapologetically drain the life out of you. While you can’t avoid these types of relationships, you can manage the amount of time you give to them. The key is to recognize them and minimize the emotional investment and time given to them.
Be creative with your relationships.
Take charge of your schedule and be creative to find what works for you. Define days and times that work to manage these different areas of relationships. Knowing what works for you will help you better respond to that “when can we get together?” question. It also keeps date nights and important events in your kids lives top priority.
Be honest about your relationships.
Be honest with your relational time management. I’m a highly relational leader which, plays well for ministry, but the dark side to being a relational leader is becoming emotionally depleted. This means I can be tempted to give leftovers to my family, myself and my relationship with God. Knowing your leadership style will better equip you to know and understand your capacity to engage with people in different seasons
Your season of life, your capacity, or your relationships, were never designed to provide enough worth to make you feel valued. Your value is found in who you are in Christ. And when you pour into your relationship with Jesus first, it begins to bring clarity to your capacity to engage in your calling and relationships in your current season to become a pastor’s wife who is leading and loving it!
Written by Liz Sarno
Eleven and a half years ago, we were sitting around a table at a restaurant with ten other people following the last Easter service at the church we were all attending. The church was dissolving, the pastor was leaving and someone looked at soon-to-be husband, Chris and me and said, “What are you doing next Sunday?” Chris replied, “I guess just meet us down at the Miracle Center at 10:30am.” And with those words our church was planted in the community outreach center where we ministered weekly to the homeless.
I thought it would be no big deal to start a church. After all, I had grown up in church and had been attending them most of my life, so really, how hard could it be? Chris was an evangelist, and although I had never led worship, I could sing. And take care of kids, and pay bills, and clean. I was usually great at solving any problem that came my way. We weren’t part of a church planting organization, didn’t have anyone coaching us, and didn’t have a checklist of what you are supposed to do to plant a church, but we were sure we could figure things out along the way. In those early days there were so many things that I wish I would have known. Mostly though, I wish I would have known the rewards of church planting. It might have made the heartbreaks a little easier.
Had I known what a beautiful thing it would be to watch God come through for us time and time again and know that I could always trust Him to take care of every need, it would have made the stress of certain seasons a lot less difficult.
Had I known the joy I would experience watching my own children worship God in kid’s church, it might have made those frustrating Sundays, when I was trying to teach 20 children by myself in a cramped room, much less overwhelming.
Had I known I would look into the face of a someone who had been strung out on drugs, and living on the street until they found Jesus through our church and completely turned their life around, it might have made the disappointment of those who made wrong decisions sting a little less.
Had I known eleven years later I would be standing arm in arm with faithful individuals God brought to serve in our church, and who have remained with us through thick and thin, it might have made the pain of betrayal by their less loyal predecessors hurt a little less.
Had I known the joy I would one day experience watching others flourish in their gifts and abilities, it would have made the discouragement of seasons where the harvest was plentiful but the laborers few a little easier to walk through.
Had I known the joy God would bring me in the form of precious friends who would come into my life, friends I could trust, hope with, and dream with, friends who would accept me for who I am and love me even with my flaws, I would have cried a little less about the ones who stabbed me in the back, used me or talked badly about me. It would have made the loneliness a little easier too.
I’m not going to tell you planting a church is easy, but I will tell you it’s worth it. The joy is bigger than the pain. The beauty is greater than the ugliness. The rewards far outweigh the difficulties. If God has called you, He has equipped you, and has many blessings waiting for you. God’s Word is always a great reminder for me:
So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith. Galatians 6:9-10(MSG)
TRANSITIONING A CHURCH
Written by Kimberly Scott
Transitioning a century old church is NOT for the weak of heart. Ten years ago, my husband Tim and I embarked on the biggest changes Grace Church San Diego has ever experienced and with each challenge we faced, we found ourselves grasping for insight, wisdom and encouragement wherever we could find it. I watched my husband struggle through self-doubt, fear and desperation as he led step-by-uncertain-step into the direction we knew God was calling us to. THROUGH that process, I observed up close how the Lord so faithfully carried him, shaped his leadership and moved our beautiful community church into the thriving vision and mission we knew was straight from the Father. That being said, there were so many moments I felt ill-equipped to know how to support and encourage him as I was also “gimping” along on this journey. As Tim and I discussed this blog post, I knew I needed his input because though we walked this out side-by-side, there were countless times that I wished I could give him the specific encouragement he needed to equip him in the best way possible. Together we decided on three major “take-aways” on what WE wish we’d known when we started this make-over of our local church that ultimately transitioned our own hearts. I’m going to title this:
THREE NOT SO EASY STEPS TO TRANSITIONING A CHURCH
1) Remember to focus on the people you are seeking to reach rather than focusing on the people you are trying to keep. Don’t let the fear of losing people you have dictate the direction of the church.
2) Remember to communicate honestly and clearly what the vision is and why vision is necessary. Don’t let fear of rejection control the vision casting.
3) Remember to move the change without delay when the vision is clear to the leaders and people. Don’t let the people’s fear of change keep you from implementing the new direction because delay will create more confusion and division.
Did you notice we mentioned the word fear three times? Fear is the “F” word of this process…am I allowed to say that?! It’s literally the greatest weapon that Satan uses to undermine and debilitate our leadership AND the only weapon that we pick up, embrace and wield on ourselves. I’m pretty sure when the Word daily challenges us to put on the armor of God it does NOT include the weapon of fear. Yet somehow we lose sight of the victory we know that we have in Christ and strap on that ugly blade of fear allowing it to cut our spiritual leadership off at the knee caps! Here’s the Truth that resonated most for Tim and I as we struggled through our self-doubt:
“FEAR NOT, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will STRENGTHEN you, I will HELP you, I will UPHOLD you with my righteous hand.” Isaiah 41:10
Let’s be honest: If we allow Him, God will always use difficulty and struggles in life to build and develop our character, spirit and leadership. His desire is not to see us crushed in the process, but to use our brokenness and desperation to build INTIMACY with Him. As we lean into His Word and spend time aligning our dreams with His calling, we are reminded of why we know that our mission is really about changing US first and the folks we are leading second. THIS is the hardest transition. THIS is the biggest transition. THIS is the most valuable transition. Tim and I learned not to allow the “comfort” of our complacency to replace the discomfort of obedience and ultimately GROWTH!
Written by Stephanie Shouse
When our first church called my husband as pastor, we were thrilled. It was time to finally make some changes to tradition so a new generation could experience church in a better way! But after several years of working, persuading, and fighting with absolutely no lasting change, we realized we were missing something. We were missing the fact that God is the one who truly changes and grows things. Jesus said, “I will build My Church.” I knew this truth in my head, but in my heart I believed it was up to me. If I have innovative ideas, boundless energy, and leadership skills, change will happen. I wish I had known transitioning a church is like growing a garden.
Transition takes time.
In our first garden we planted watermelon, our daughter’s favorite. Days after planting she hurried outside expecting to see watermelon, but found there wasn’t even a sprout! It was the last time she was interested in the garden.
Isn’t that like ministry? We’re called to lead a church who wants to grow. We make plans, tell our people, do the work…but nothing happens. It’s feels frustrating and pointless. But in Scripture we see that God often takes time to bring about His plan. God promised that He would make Abraham & his descendants into a great nation. This promise wasn’t fulfilled until 600 years later—after the people first were slaves in Egypt, wandered in the wilderness and fought battles to take the Promised Land!
Sound familiar? Ever feel like people are slaves to tradition? Like you’re wandering in the wilderness with a bunch of complainers? Fighting battles to fulfill God’s calling? Transitioning a church is not for the faint of heart. Be patient. Keep trusting God’s promises. He hasn’t forgotten you. He hasn’t rescinded His calling. But God is not in a hurry. He grows things.
Transition takes a personal touch.
The year we planted our garden, we bought a timer sprinkler to water our garden while we were unavailable. But after a summer of VBS, mission trips and family vacations, our garden was dead. Some plants had received too much water while others were parched, and weeds completely choked out our little plants!
As leaders it may be easier to stand on a platform or sit behind a desk to dictate change, but true and lasting change comes through the foundation of relationships not through a position of authority. When God called us to our second church we wanted to be intentional about building relationships. We opened our home for meals with the families of our church. We accepted invitations to birthday parties, ball games and cookouts. We shared our story and listened to theirs. We laughed and cried together for over a year before we started making changes. By then our people didn’t dig in against the discomfort of change because they loved & trusted us. They knew we were making changes based on God’s leading and our love for them rather than just our own ideas. God loves people, and when we love people, and give them time to love us, true and lasting change can happen.
Transition happens organically.
Traditional gardens are full of tomatoes, cucumbers & green beans. But we were determined to be different. We wanted to grow blueberries, but the soil wasn’t right and they refused to grow. Meanwhile, we tossed out an old pumpkin from Halloween which took root and grew a vine that produced six giant pumpkins!
We come into leadership with plans for what we would like to grow within our ministries. We plant the seeds and work hard to produce growth, but never see any fruit. What if God wants to grow something totally organic in our ministry, something we would never expect, but something our communities desperately need? We have to let go of our own dreams for ministry and embrace the dreams God has for us. Our churches must reflect where we are planted. God knows what our church and our community needs. Imported plans don’t last but organic growth is from God.
Growing a garden takes time, as does transitioning a church. We must be patient, personally invested, and understanding of the environment where we are planted. Then we can trust that God will produce fruit that last.
Written by Lisa Hughes
When my husband David and I first came to Church By The Glades, it was called Coral Baptist Church. It was a small, stereotypical, traditional church. It even had red carpet, pews and a white steeple. David was only a one-time fill-in preacher for the original fill-in preacher who was sick!
After speaking a couple of times, David was asked to be the interim pastor. Quite honestly, the only reason he accepted was because they promised they would never consider him to be the pastor. We had no desire to lead this church. Clearly, God had other plans.
After a few months, the head of the pastoral search committee came to us and told us they had found their next pastor. We were thrilled for them! He then proceeded to tell us that they felt they had missed God and believed David was the man God had for the job. After MUCH prayer, David and I decided this was where God wanted us. We had come from a very healthy, contemporary, larger church so the first few weeks left our heads spinning. This church was a mess! In the previous few years it went through two staff led church splits! It seemed everything was broken and needed to be changed. What an incredible journey the last 17 years have been for us. We often tell people we feel like we have watched God do His favorite thing as He literally resurrected this dying church.
I want to share with you some valuable wisdom that David and I have learned as we transitioned Coral Baptist Church to Church By The Glades:
You can’t fix all the broken pieces at one time.
When we arrived at our church, literally everything needed to be fixed! If we would have become consumed with how much needed to change we would have thrown in the towel. First, we made the decision to start with the areas that would affect the most people. We focused on the Sunday morning experience, worship experience, and children’s ministries. We wanted to make sure when someone came to a weekend experience it was so good they would give us another try.
Cut the cat’s tail an inch at a time!
There is a saying “it is more painful to cut a cat’s tail an inch at a time”. I would agree EXCEPT when it comes to transitioning a church. We made the decision to make changes slowly and gently. My husband never wavered or compromised on the vision he felt God had given him for our church but he methodically took a step at a time to bring as many people on the journey as possible.
People will take the journey with you if you truly value and honor them in the process.
One of the most unique things about our transition story is the amount of original people we still have with us after 17 years. Our church looks nothing like the church we came to all those years ago. The message of the Gospel has never been changed or compromised but our methodology has continued to morph time and time again. Although we currently have six services at our main campus that are highly contemporary, we still have a traditional service on Sunday morning where David speaks live. When my husband explained the vision he felt God had given him to reach people through a more contemporary style of worship, he told them if they would help him make it happen he would honor them as well and always have a traditional worship service. As we made so many radical changes stylistically over the years, we have watched the majority of our original congregation not just tolerate but actually cheer on what God has done and is doing.
I could never have written the story of how God would truly transition and transform a church like ours. Some days I thought we would never get where we wanted to be.
So remember if God has called you and your husband there, He will empower you to accomplish the work. This is truly my greatest journey!
BEFORE BECOMING A...
Written by Liz Sarno
I pastor our church alongside my husband where I fill the role of the executive pastor, worship pastor, sometimes teaching pastor and sometimes associate pastor as well. I guess you could say I am the “co-pastor”. We started our church before we got married so that was my title before I was his wife. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about how to do this job, but more about what NOT to do. If I could go back and tell myself one thing, it would be this:
Always wear the right hat.
For a season of my life, I lived in Louisville, Kentucky, home of the Kentucky Derby. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it on TV, but if so you probably noticed the ladies all dressed up wearing gorgeous hats. The first year that I attended the Derby, I had tickets to the infield and there were no beautiful hats to be found, unless you counted baseball caps, since this particular part of the track was very casual and relaxed. The next time that I was invited to the Derby, it was to sit in the fancier section, and I got to wear the most beautiful hat. At the Derby, it’s pretty clear which hat you wear in which location. You wouldn’t wear a baseball cap in the grandstand and you wouldn’t wear a fancy hat in the infield. In life however, knowing which hat to wear can be a little more uncertain.
No matter what our roles in ministry we all wear more than one hat. We are wives, mothers, pastors, friends, and the list goes on. When you co-pastor alongside your husband, it is crucial for the health of your relationship and your church that you not blur the lines by wearing the wrong hat.
The Wife Hat
I had to learn that although I am co-pastor of our church that I need to wear my wife hat at home. We fell into the dangerous trap where we never stopped doing ministry. We talked about church on date night, in the car on the way to the kid’s school play and at the dinner table. It began to erode our relationship as husband and wife. At home my hubby doesn’t need to hear about staff issues, the latest projects, the numbers or budget concerns. He needs me to be his wife, his biggest cheerleader, and his best friend. He needs me to be romantic and supportive and have things in common with him besides our church.
The Co-Pastor Hat
On the flipside, at work I have to take my wife hat off and put my pastor hat on, which also means that I am technically my husband’s employee. Although we pastor together, he is still my boss. Honestly, this was the most difficult thing for me to adjust to. It was hard for me to separate out my work role from my position as his wife. We had many meetings where I pushed my ideas stronger than I would have if he wasn’t my husband. I was quicker to argue my points than I would have with a different employer. I felt more entitled to my opinions because I couldn’t separate our relationship. I’m ashamed to admit that I probably didn’t give him the respect he deserved in his role because I hadn’t quite learned my place as his employee. After all this time, I’ve almost learned how to take off my wife hat when I’m at the office.
The Child of God Hat
This is the most important hat you and I will ever wear. Unlike the others, it should never be taken off. It can be easy to unintentionally substitute ministry for relationship. Without meaning to, personal devotional time can get replaced by studying for a message. Private prayer time can be exchanged for public worship. When God whispers in our ears, instead of writing in our journals, we write blogs or articles. God doesn’t mind messages, public worship, or blog posts, but He does mind when pursuit of ministry replaces pursuit of His presence. Keeping this hat fixed firmly on our heads will keep us on track and help us better recognize when we are wearing the wrong hat and help us put the right one back on.
Written by Jenni Clayville
My journey in leading worship corporately began 24 years ago as a 15 year-old student volunteer. Music has always been a huge part of my life. I was classically trained on piano and voice, though what teenager didn’t love belting out a song from the most recent Janet Jackson Rhythm Nation album? This girl. So when I was asked to play and sing for our church youth worship ministry, it seemed like a no brainer. I had no idea at that time that this would become my life’s calling.
Sixteen years ago, the Youth Ministries Pastor at my church asked me to fill in as the interim Worship Director while she went on maternity leave. In those three months, my relationships with the other musicians and tech people grew immensely. And the youth worship ministry grew from 5 to 21 volunteers. When the Youth Pastor returned, they offered me a permanent position as the Worship Director. By the time I left this church years later, the worship ministry had duplicated itself to more than 55 volunteers. This began my “career” in Worship Ministry.
When I first started in this position, I was young and the only other female worship leader out here was Darlene Zschech. She is the famous Hillsong, “Shout to the Lord” genius with a darling Australian accent on the other side of this planet.
Because I was the only female in my area in Portland, Oregon, at the time, I was often left out of other church connection events and opportunities. More often than not, I was introduced in a variety of ways:
“Women’s Director” (Uh, no.)
“Children’s Director” (No way.)
“Back-up Singer” (Sort of but not really.)
“Youth Worker” (Wrong again.)
Most of the time I was asked where my husband was and if he was the Worship Pastor, to which I would respond with, “Oh no… Brian’s giftings are not in the musical realm.” One time, a (male) fellow worshiper boldly stated he didn’t feel that God would ever give a woman the important calling of leading worship from a platform.
You should have seen my 5’2” Asian self get all up in his business. Ah, don’t worry, ladies. I didn’t break his face. We talked about it, sometimes, not so calmly, over a few months. Then, I didn’t talk to him for awhile because the desire to break his face was growing exponentially bigger than my ability to control myself. But this story does end well. He did eventually contact me and apologize. He really dove into God’s Word and prayed for understanding.
Though it’s much more common now to see women in center stage roles, at that time, people seemed confused that a woman would be called as the Worship Pastor and not the Worship Pastor’s wife. This was an excruciatingly isolating and difficult journey.
Because I was young, I had EVERYTHING to prove. Though my heart was pure in my desire to help lead others to the foot of His Throne, how I went about doing that in the music and atmospherical style I preferred was immature and aggressive. I felt as if God depended on me to prove that not only could women serve His Kingdom this way, but I should also be leading the way in this epiphany.
I was an idiot.
God was going to do this with or without me. Because He is gracious, patient, and forgiving, He gave me my “bull in the china shop” season, and painfully refined me into a much more seasoned, well-mannered and intentional leader. I’d like to think I was granted some wisdom over the last 25 years as well. *wink*
My heart and desire is and has always been to help usher worshippers to the foot of His Throne. But what I love most now is helping release others into their own callings. To help others find their sweet spot. To see men and women who’ve come up through our ministries launch out to serve all over the world makes my heart swell with joy. This is duplication and “sending out” at it’s finest and really what the Bible calls us to do in expanding His Kingdom.
For me, this journey began as a 15-year old musician. Today, I continue as the Lead Worshiper at Paseo Christian Church in El Paso, Texas. This is not the first church body I have served and probably not the last. But God has called me to serve His body.
It doesn’t matter where God has called you to serve. Sometimes, He calls you to serve during a refining season. And that doesn’t feel good. I know. But all that matters is that you are serving Him and furthering His Kingdom.
How are you doing that in your life right now? How has He called you?
Written by Janet Findley
It’s hard for me to believe that almost nine years ago I said yes to taking my first steps into my current role as a women’s Ministry Leader at Central Church. How quickly those nine years have gone by.
It all began very innocuously with one of my pastors asking me to lead a women’s small group. “Sure, I can do that!” was my enthusiastic response. A year later I was asked by the same pastor to coordinate all the volunteers needed to run our on-site women’s groups weekly. This was a much bigger role with a much bigger time commitment, and I still had a fulltime job. The words “Sure, I can do that!” flew out of my mouth.
Almost a year later, our women’s ministry went through a transition, and I found myself asked to step in as a leader. A HUGE step for me! I still had my full-time job and this was an even bigger time commitment. What do I do? I prayed often and talked with my husband and it became clear to me that this is what God was calling me to do. So I said yes.
Yikes! What did I just get myself into? I had many days in the next few months when I doubted the wisdom of that decision and freaked myself out. I thought, “I’m not qualified to do this! I can’t do this! I need to change my yes to no!” But God was in this with me from the beginning and He calmed my fears and gave me what I needed when I needed it to move forward. And, little did I know at that time that God had even bigger plans for me in the future.
I retired from my job, and God tapped me on the shoulder and expanded my role as a Ministry Leader at my church. He changed and expanded my ministry role from just women’s to include leading Open and Senior groups weekly with my husband. Wow God! Are you sure? If anyone had told me nine years ago that I would be in ministry full time now, I would not have believed them. In fact, I would have thought they were crazy!
It has been a huge blessing to serve as a Women’s Ministry Leader and now in my expanded role as a Ministry Leader with Open and Senior Groups. But it has also been a journey full of self-doubt, pain, and very trying at times. There are several things I wish I would have known before I stepped into my Ministry Leader roles.
Never Take It Personally
I didn’t know just how critical and at times mean-spirited people could be. Mean things are said behind your back and sometimes to your face. The speaker thinks they are saying it to be helpful and sometimes because they feel they are right and you are not. They do not censor themselves and try to speak God’s words to you. The result is that what is said can be very hurtful. I had to learn to pray about everything and really lean into God and trust Him to get me through. I had to learn to keep my temper and tongue in control because I am part of church leadership. I had to learn to look up – to God in prayer and to senior church leadership for wisdom and advice in handling these situations.
Always Be Flexible as a Leader
I am a very type A personality. I love plans, organization and routine. I wish I would have known that in my position as a Ministry Leader, I would need to hold things very loosely. Schedules can change frequently in the life of a church. A “yes” I may have gotten from senior leadership for an event, a schedule of meetings, or something else can easily change to a “no” as their vision and plans for the entire church shift and move. I learned that I must become more flexible in my thinking. I needed to understand that the senior leadership has the vision for the entire church while my focus is on my ministry area. I wish I would have understood the multitude of moving parts there are in a church, especially a mega church, and just how fluid they can be. Many times the best laid plans will change. I had to become flexible enough to understand this and not get upset when it happens, because it will happen.
EGR (Extra Grace Required)
I wish I would have understood that people are people no matter where you encounter them. Just because they believe in God and go to church doesn’t mean that they are magically transformed into the most reliable, dependable, kind and understanding people on earth. Many will volunteer and not show up. Others will say they will do something and not accomplish it. Some will not honor your deadline or timeframes. Plenty will gossip about you and be critical of you. None of us are perfect! I have learned to embrace the fact that no magic happens. I have learned to be gracious to them when they stumble because I want them to treat me the same way when I stumble. I have learned to meet each person and accept them where they are in their life. I have learned to let them see God through me. I have learned to teach this to others I work with in ministry so they can give God’s grace to others and not have a critical spirit towards them.
Never Bring Your B Game
I wish I would have known that as a Ministry Leader, I am being watched. All. The. Time. I used to think that people only watched me when I was up in front, leading our weekly groups. Boy, was I naïve and wrong! I had to learn and understand that I am watched in the grocery store, in the mall, in church, in small group, in fact, I am watched everywhere I go! I had to learn that this is part of being a Ministry Leader. We are held to a higher standard. I’m okay with that now. But I had to figure that out. Ladies would stop me and comment to me about how wonderful it was when they observed me doing this or that. Or they would question me about why I did this thing or that thing when they thought another way would have been better in their eyes. So I learned that I always need to be on my A-game because I am a Ministry Leader. People watch leaders all the time and look to us as role models and mentors. We are held to a higher standard. I am not perfect, but I do need to remember that I am observed all the time because I am a leader.
I love being a Ministry Leader. I truly believe God called me to this role. He is walking with me on every step of this journey. I also believe that He has taught me and is continuing to teach me what I need to know to lead strongly for him. In many ways, I’m glad I lacked insight into some of the obstacles I would face and continue to face as a ministry leader. If I’d known, I might have said no. All of the things I didn’t know were simply opportunities for me to really lean into God, trust Him and grow as He was teaching me. They were opportunities for me to really learn to give God and my ministry my very best yes.
Written by Lisa Schwartz
I was captured by student ministry my junior year at Wheaton College in Illinois. I got involved serving in the Student Impact High School Ministry at Willow Creek Community Church in Barrington, Illinois. This has continued to be my passion for the last 30 years. I think I “got it” when I watched student’s lives changed for eternity and then saw them reach into their families lives with the love of Christ in my early days at Willow. My husband and I have been privileged to be a part of exceptional churches in addition to Willow Creek Community Church: Oakbrook Community Church in Kokomo, Indiana, and Central Christian Church in Las Vegas, Nevada, where we are currently serving.
The majority of my time serving the church has been as a volunteer in student ministry. I have learned on my journey that I love small groups, spiritual growth, helping people assimilate into the life of the church and leading and coaching adult leaders who lead students. I was a stay-at-home mom when our kids were little, and currently, I am a working mom. I teach middle school PE, coach basketball, and am a service coach for girls’ middle school small groups. In addition to that, I try to cook dinner most nights, while squeezing in all my children’s sporting events. Yes, my life is full, probably a lot like yours.
I serve in student ministry because I love it. I don’t do it because my husband does it, however, it is amazing to serve together. I do love his leadership, and consider it a blessing to have similar passions, yet very different spiritual gifts. I will try to walk through a few things I wish I would have known early in my student ministry years.
BE YOU, NOT HIM: I am in a Bible study at work and we are studying Crazy Love by Francis Chan. Through this study, I was reminded that I lived in my husband’s shadow early in our ministry years, but I did not realize it and it took me some time to sort this out. He had a big shadow: great teacher, leader, visionary and BIG personality. I thought I needed to be more like him and tried to do so. I tried to teach and lead like him, and while some of that was good and stretching, Jesus was reminding me to be me. I had to find what I love and am good at, and to do that with my whole heart. My heart beat for the church is uniquely mine, and I bring a unique perspective to our relationship through how I serve. I would encourage you to explore your spiritual gifts and to seek to serve in them. This will take time and is a slow process. If you are not sure where to serve, then my strong advice would be that youth ministry is the mini-church, and you can usually find or create a role that will fit you there. As you explore service and find what you love, remember it is helpful to engage for a committed period of time to a ministry. As you grow and learn over time you may be pulled out of youth ministry and into other areas of the church. This is totally fine and can be very healthy depending on your season of life. It may be just for a short time, or for longer. When and if this happens, please, have a good, healthy, strong presence in the student ministry environments when it fits. It is important for students to see and know you, as you are a role model to them, and they are watching your every move.
THINK LIKE A PARENT: This is probably the biggest piece of advice that we give to new, younger leaders in our ministry. You are dealing with people’s pride and joy, their children, and you have to value, respect and honor them. In student ministry, this can be hard to do when you are not a parent yourself. So you have to seek advice from mentors and leaders, read books, watch parents, and be a learner. When you are making big picture ministry decisions, always think about what will parents think, and let this help guide you. Many parents are open to great, fun, big all-night type ideas, as long as they are safely and thoughtfully executed. I would also suggest that you find a few parents whom you respect and invite them into your circle. Trust and lean into them for support and wisdom in your ministry. You need people who can lend this point of view at all seasons of your ministry. You are trying to create something that ultimately you want students and parents to love, so you must keep them in mind as you think, dream and plan your ministry year. Also, parents really like to be kept in the loop with good solid communication along the way, as they are busy driving all of their kids around! So find multiple ways to communicate with parents!
PRAY, FOLLOW LEADINGS, AND SHOW UP: In any ministry role this statement is key, and for wives of student ministry pastors, this should be a mantra. You need to be prepared with prayer, open to the work of the Holy Spirit, and committed enough to show up consistently. Yes, even when your day has been tough or full, you’re fighting sickness, or the myriad of excuses we are all tempted to lean towards. Student ministry tends to have a full calendar and it requires a balanced tenacity. Be tough, ladies. God honors those who “show up”, especially when it has taken what can sometimes feel like a monumental effort to get to church. I have been in that place so many times. When we pull ourselves together and just “show up,” we will be blessed and used by God. It is transformational when we actually just allow Him to work through our weakness.
TEAM: Student Ministry is more fun with a team of adults serving and growing in community. Please don’t think your husband and you need to do it all and be all to everyone. You cannot. But, you can gather people around you and assemble a team to help show the love of Christ to students. The team of adults that I serve with always includes some great friends that give back, grow and stretch me. I have been privileged to do most of my ministry on teams, and to me, it is the BEST! I know being on strong teams has kept me in student ministry for the last 30 years.