I’m in Orlando for the Exponential Conference, which is a gathering for church planters from all over the country. I’m here with a group of planters from the Evangelical Covenant Church & the East Coast Conference, a group of fellow pastors and leaders who are becoming family to me.
I didn’t know what to expect when I got here, but in short, I’ve had an unbelievable time.
I ain’t gonna lie, I’ve been crying non-stop like a baby.
Something about this conference has touched me deeply, and I’d like to think that something has forever changed in me as a person. Well, I hope.
The conference theme is “Sifted”, a word taken from Luke 22 where it talks of Satan sifting Peter (this is what Jesus tells him). Each of the main sessions here have addressed some sort of “sifting” that church planters go through. I’ve been wrecked by all the messages and talks I’ve had with other church planters here. Wrecked.
Before I share some reflections, here is some information about me as a church planter: A team of us are planting Hope Church NYC in Astoria, NY, a western part of Queens. We began launch team (core group) gatherings in January, and we’re just coming off of our first preview service which was on Sunday, April 22nd. Our grand opening as a church will be sometime in the Fall.
My wife Tina and I also celebrated the birth of our first child on Tuesday, January 31st. We’re planting a church that mirrors the age of our first child. In other words, there are two newborns in our lives.
With this said, here are some reflections from this conference:
1) Church Planting is Hard… Really Hard – Every main session – from Wayne Cordiero to Jud Wilhite, to church planting spousal teams that have shared, to the Hybels family sharing – has stressed the ways in which church planting has been the hardest thing these folks have ever done.
Each speaker has shared with surprising honesty and vulnerability, something I’m not used to at some of these larger gatherings.
Whether they’re stories of marital & family pain, physical ailment, leadership quandaries, or criticism, the presentations have gone past the fluff and really pinpointed the kinds of emotions and challenges that church planters face.
– They’ve spoken of the fears of starting something new and not knowing if it will succeed.
– They’ve spoken of the stress on family life that is practically unavoidable.
– They’ve shared about the criticism that has come from unexpected places.
– They’ve shared about the disappointment and messiness that inevitably comes with church planting.
There have been stories from other planters that have confirmed all of these struggles – planters who are persevering through terminal cancer, church conflict, & marital strife.
There came a moment, maybe halfway through the first session with Wayne Cordiero when he was really spilling his guts out, when I came to a couple of startling realizations:
– I am a church planter.
– Church planting is really hard. Really hard.
Hence, the weepy mess.
Each session has been an exhortation toward faith, perseverance, integrity, dependence, obedience, and hope.
I’ve spent a lot of time weeping, repenting, and praying the past couple of days. Church planting might very well be the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
2) “In Ministry You’re Going to Disappoint Someone, Try Not to Make it Your Kids” & “When your Time at Your Church is Done, You Will Only Have Your Ultimate Small Group (your family) to Return to” – Lynne & Bill Hybels shared this with the audience in a powerful interview with the Hybels clan (Bill, Lynn, and their adult kids Todd & Shana).
I could hear the anguish in Lynne and Bill as they shared of the struggle in those early years of parenting and planting a church.
And yet, I could also hear the love and joy that Todd & Shana shared about having the family that they do.
Todd said, “I would love for my future family (Todd is single) to be just like the one I grew up in.”
As a son of a vocational minister (albeit my father entered vocational ministry when I was a teen), I wept through most of the interview.
Needless to say, Tina and David have been on my mind in a special way this week. And I’ve vowed to giving my best to them. I do so with much repentance and fear, knowing I could only do this with God’s strength.
3) I Love the Evangelical Covenant Church & The East Coast Conference – Sure, it’s an imperfect group of pastors and leaders, but I’ve been so blessed by my time with these fellow pastors and leaders.
Each night we return to the rooms we’re renting and eat, drink, tell stories, laugh, cry, pray, and laugh some more.
I’m so grateful for the support of fellow pastors, our church planting director Jason Condon, and our district superintendent Howard Burgoyne.
4) “It Feels a Lot Like Faith” – This quote comes from my good friend Dave Choi, a fellow church planter of a great church called Church of the Beloved in Chicago.
I asked him how planting has been going, as he’s been a little ahead of me in the process. He said, “it feels a lot like faith.”
I can so relate to what he’s saying.
Church planting requires such tremendous faith. There are so many unknowns about it, and it requires a level of dependence on God that I don’t think I’ve been asked to have before.
5) I love, love, love the people of Hope Church NYC – I couldn’t have asked for a better team of people to roll with. Their support, love, and friendship have been unbelievable.
It’s with great fear and reverence I echo the words of Bart Scott, “Can’t wait.”
For what, you ask?
To go through one of the hardest endeavors of our lives…
…so that we can say, “Only God could do that.”
Let’s do this.
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” – Hebrews 11:1