It was winter 2013 and my family and I were about to visit Lincoln for the first time ever. We had already managed to raise over £6000 that we had put into our new Church bank account in faith that God was definitely sending us to Lincoln. If we didn’t like it here then it was tough.
On the day we had invited a couple of friends from our Bible College community to come and see Lincoln with us, as they felt that God was also calling them to come and pioneer a new Church with us. However, they didn’t have a vehicle, meaning that we would have to make two trips everywhere in our car when we arrived.
We left sunny Malvern first thing in the morning, and one of our friends had jumped on the train, which was a four-hour journey, and was going to meet us there. As we came passed Nottingham and joined the A46 going into Lincoln it suddenly dawned on us that this trip might be a bit more difficult than we had imaged. We could barely see the bonnet of the car through the snow.
If you’ve been in Lincoln for any amount of time you’ll know that sometimes traffic comes to a standstill if it rains too hard, but when it snows… it’s chaos!
We arrived at our hotel and put our luggage into our room, and then proceeded to try to look around a little. As you can imagine we were not impressed at all. The city was cold, messy and covered in snow. We couldn’t get to some of the places that might have made us feel good about the city, and the places that we did manage to visit, like the estate where we were going to plant and the community centre, were lifeless.
We came away, after a tough couple of days transporting team and family to each location of interest twice, hating the place. We couldn’t have been more unimpressed! But God had called us here.
From time to time this journey of pioneering a new Christian community is going to throw some rubbish your way. Sometimes it’s going to be awesome. Whatever the time, situation or problem you’ll need to have a few characteristics as a person to make it through the beginning stages of pioneering a new congregation.
Our first event that we held on our estate was the day before our first Church service. We had a huge BBQ and loads of people came along, nearly 400 people actually. I was telling everyone about Church the next day. We had a mini-series answering the big faith questions and we had put a flyer through every door on the estate with these five big questions regarding creation, sex, and love. Our first service we had 25 people come along. Most of those were friends from university. We only had three adults and around three children come in off the estate, and that’s where we sat for a few weeks. Three years of planning, two years of promo, and me preaching the gospel to half a million people on the primetime radio show had resulted in three people coming to Church. It was my job to do everything. I had to set the culture of worship with an elderly Christian couple and a lady with two of her kids from another Church. I did the words for the big screen from the front of Church where I could still show visitors and congregation members how ‘us Pentecostals’ worship. It was rough.
I did all of the Evangelism. My kids would come out with me to put flyers out, and they joined in at the local youth club. It was hard but we just had to keep on going. Not just because of the amount of money that we had invested, but because we had a responsibility to look after two families now. What’s more, I’m a right optimist, so every time I did some sort of outreach I actually thought that we were going to see revival the next Sunday.
A Pioneer has to be resilient.
If you think about every program you watch on TV, or every preacher that you love to hear, you’ll notice that they have a very distinct personality. People are drawn to a character, and so if you’re going to make friends quickly and keep those that you bring to Church through your promotions, you need to have an attractive personality. Don’t misunderstand me here, I’m not saying that if you’re boring and cold you won’t be able to build a Church, but what I am saying is that a smile can’t hurt your efforts.
Amongst the leaders that I am currently training and raising up I am trying to explain to them that the really successful guys are usually like caricatures of themselves. There are parts of their personality that they deliberately exaggerate. They might not even know that they are doing it, but they will behave in a particular way that exaggerates a part of their personality. This doesn’t mean that they are fake, it just means that they are a ramped up version of themselves when in front of crowds or preaching. You might even say that when I get home after a long day in front of a bunch of people I just tend to be the toned-down version of myself.
Work on being an attractive personality.
I’m not going to lie, people often say that it’s a Pastor’s job to do everything, by which they ultimately mean that the responsibility always falls on the Pastor to make sure that everything is done, but when there’s only you and two other people in the Church and the other person is a bit crazy (not that this was the case in our little Church, but often it can be), there’s no other option than to do it yourself otherwise it won’t get done.
I’ve found that as Church goes on, and as it gets bigger, the workload gets bigger but you have to do less. My best advice here would be to not make yourself a load of work for no reason. If you’re going to keep numbers of people attending (which we didn’t do until two years in) then you really want to get a monthly or quarterly average to make yourself feel better. Numbers go up and down, and you might feel like a rubbish Pastor when everyone thinks that you’re great but they haven’t gleaned the gift of commitment from you yet.
By the way, if you have a week off because you feel slightly depressed or poorly, then the whole Church closes down for the week and you lose all momentum. Sweetheart, you just need to get over that sniffle and muddle on! If you’re lackluster in worship and serving, your congregation will be too.
A Sense of Responsibility
One of the hardest things about going to Bible College when I was in my mid-twenties was that all these pansy teenagers thought that they were God’s gift to the world but they were totally unwilling to take on any real responsibility. Some of them couldn’t even take responsibility for their own actions.
The moment you lead someone to Jesus you have a responsibility to disciple them effectively to the point that they can carry on walking the walk without you. How irresponsible is it for you to make a baby Christian and leave it at the side of the road to die when it needs milk? That’s someone’s eternal life you’re messing around at right there.
I have friends in other towns and cities that would make a commitment to follow Jesus at the drop of a hat if I asked them to, they are ripe for the picking, but I’m scared that if I lead them to Jesus some mug in the local Church will just put them on a mailing list for the Alpha Course instead of actually getting to know them and walking the walk with them.
You have a responsibility!
A Good Psychological State
At the end of my first year of university I snuck into the back of a meeting that I thought I wasn’t meant to be in at a conference. As I listened to the speaker, she explained that a lot of addicts who find Jesus tend to give up their addiction to drugs and become addicted to serving the Church.
She said that if you were an addict, you probably still are!
Shaken to the core, I went to see our campus counselor. Explaining what I heard I asked for help. This started a journey that lasted about a year. My thought was that I didn’t want to go into a situation full of broken people trying to bring hope to them if I was only going to do them more damage.
I had two counselors at university – three if you count the Holy Spirit – and both of my human ones signed me off saying that I was fine by the time I left. The Holy Spirit still hasn’t signed me off though.
I would recommend getting psychologically strong before putting yourself in such a trying place. Rejection, blame, shame and guilt are all waiting round the corner for a Pioneer just starting out on the journey. Don’t fall into their trap.
There is obviously a whole load more to say on this subject of character, but there is a limit to what a person can read in one setting. Some of my favourite books that I’ve read include: Reformission Rev, by Driscoll; Courageous Leadership, by Hybels; and Servolution, by Rizzo. Part 2 will be on the mindset of a pioneer leader.