There isn't a lot out there to encourage church planters. Advice? Yes. Correction? Yes. Coaching? Yes. Comparing? Yes. Mocking? Sometimes. Encouragement? Not really. Some may say, "Well, if you're a church planter you shouldn't need kudos to stay the course." There's some truth to that, but that's not what encouragement is about. To en-courage is "to put courage into". Yes, our ultimate source of encouragement is the Chief Planter. Yet, the primary means by which we receive and experience his encouragement is through His people - especially from others who are in the trenches with you. So, to all my fellow church planters, this is my encouragement to you, as one among you.
A Singular, Pure Devotion to Jesus
Brothers, keep going. Love your Jesus well. Stay close to him. Make him your chief treasure. Fight to keep your life centered on a singular, pure devotion to Jesus - and lead out of that. Love your wife and family well. Take your day or days off. Play, pray and read with your kids. Get your sleep and exercise. Don't blow your adrenal gland, but show your people that you trust Jesus to be on the clock even when you are not. Don't neglect your prayer life and hearing from God through his Word. Enjoy the process, not only the product.
Plant the church
Focus on the task before you. Don't worry about writing books and getting on the speaking circuit. Don't worry about creating a citywide church planting network out of the gate. Love your people, whether that's 5, 50 or 500. Jesus is after your heart as much as he is after theirs so let him go about his work in you. Be faithful and Jesus promises fruit will follow - though it won't always look as expected. Plant the church.
Don't play the comparison game. You are different than others. Your context is different than others. Jesus is doing something different with you, and your people, that is different than others. Your circumstances contain, literally, a thousand variables that are different than others. Jesus will build his church and he'll use you as you hope he will - or maybe not. Your church probably won't look like you thought and that's good because it's not your church. You might have to close your church, but you will continue to stand firm if you are standing firm in Jesus. Anchor yourself in the Incomparable One and you won't be tempted to compare yourself with others.
Jesus loves you
Jesus loves you more than you know. You tell others that, but do you preach that to yourself? Yes, you are a rare breed but I'm not sure if Jesus intended that as a compliment. Most people can't imagine doing what you and I are doing. The majority of church plants fail. You don't have enough money. You don't have enough leaders. You're hanging everything on the line: homes, jobs, career advancement, savings, retirement, comfort, security and more. This is no joke. But, in the middle of all of this is Jesus' radical love for you - not only for your city or your neighborhood or for the church he's led you to plant, but for you. Jesus loves you, no matter what.
A Blind Eye and a Deaf Ear
With a hat-tip to Spurgeon, it is vital to cultivate a blind eye and deaf ear to those who seek to distract, dissuade or discourage. As we set out to plant, I had a pastor (!) tell me not to move into his neighborhood. I had another pastor tell me that "we'll see if you're really called to plant if you make it beyond two years." Dang. Others told me and members of our launch community that Seattle didn't need another church. They were wrong. Without question, seek counsel, be prayerful, patient and thoughtful. But, you don't need to give attention to everything that comes your way. Stay the course and let Jesus address them.
Every Individual Matters
Every image bearer, every individual, is important to God. He knows their names, their stories, even the number of hairs on their head. Don't look over those who are already among you as you seek to reach those who are not yet among you. Love the people you have and he may give you more. Every person has a story. Every person is created uniquely in the image of God. He loves them all, whether cool or awkward, skinny or fat, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, funny or boring, mean or kind. Love and serve them well. Preach the gospel, pursue wandering sheep, equip the saints, cultivate disciples, multiply leaders - show them Jesus.
Do the work
When you work, work hard with excellence. Study well. Love well. Continue to make improvements to what you're doing. Do what you can, with what you have. Go with what you know until you know differently, then do better. Don't get stuck in analysis paralysis, just do your best and forget the rest. You're going to make mistakes. You don't know everything you need to know. Press ahead regardless. Talk to other planters. Get a coach. Read books. Pray. Do the work and trust Him for the results.
Trust Him for the Results
As much as we would like to own the fruit of our labors, it's all Jesus'. He is the vine, we are the branches, without him we can do nothing (Jn 15:5). In September we had our third summer baptism in our brief two and a half years of existence. As I looked around, I knew this was all Jesus' work, his people, his redemption, his saving grace, his fruit. Yes, we have sacrificed and worked hard. Yet, I know that apart from His empowering grace, all sacrifice and work come to nothing. So, brothers, stand firm. Our King is on the throne. He promises to build His church. Anchor yourself in his faithfulness and love, and help others do the same. He loves you and he loves His people - and those who aren't yet. Work hard. Rest well. Enjoy all that God is for you in Jesus. The King has come and is coming - we'll be seeing him in no time.