“Blessed are the flexible, for they will not be bent out of shape.” -Unknown
I heard that quote several years ago when I was working at a church that was facing complete and utter disaster and I’ve never forgotten it. Let me explain: Several years ago, I worked at a church that experienced one of the worst things that could happen to a church … the Lead Pastor had an affair with someone at one of their campuses (they had 9 at the time) and the entire organization started to implode. Craziest thing about it was that Lauren and I had just arrived there and were married for 1 whole day when we found out the news; we were headed for our honeymoon the next day [insert a big LOL]. We came back to an environment in which they lost 2 campuses and it seemed like every day a new staff member was resigning or being asked to “move on.” There was even an on-campus suicide and other pastoral moral failures (and arrests) that came out in the midst of this as well. Obviously, leadership was really weak and direction was very limited. In their defense, how could it be strong? People were hurting; they were sad, and paralyzed that their spiritual leaders kept letting them down. While the lack of direction drove me crazy, it taught me more than I could ever dream. This was an education that no Bible College would ever teach me. Plus, the best part, no debt included.
Stronger than ever
With all that said, would you believe that this church is stronger today than it has ever been. How? Well, these locations were predominantly in farming towns and the thing about farmers is that they are resilient, flexible, and patient. They have to be. This unspoken rule of flexibility and commitment never wavered. Sure, they lost people, money, campuses, staff, and maybe a few years off their lives. BUT, they are still standing and stronger than ever. They were not bent out of shape when bad weather came and when trials stormed. They patiently waited while staying committed to the process.
James 5:7-8 says, “7 Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen. 8 You, too, must be patient. Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near.”
I recognize that James is referencing the return of Christ and the church was constantly on the lookout for this rescuing moment. However, I want you to notice the recommendation to be patient like a famer, while continuing to watch, wait, and take courage. This is a major theme in PLANTING a church – you’re working hard, you’re waiting (eagerly), and looking for new ways to grow and plant new seeds. However, if you aren’t patient and flexible in the midst of bad weather or turmoil, you might abandon an opportunity way too soon.
Below, I’d like to highlight a few areas in our church-planting journey that we had to be MAJOR flexible and patient; otherwise we would have abandoned a God-opportunity too soon.
- Finding a venue: We were supposed to launch in the fall and we still didn’t have a venue or neighborhood until the middle of summer. I almost gave up. I almost postponed launch. We had 2 preview services that were terrible and then had 600 people show up on launch Sunday. God had His way in His time. Sometimes we have to postpone or realize something isn’t working, but if you know in you’re gut that you’re meant to push through, even 51%, then do it. It’ll be worth it! We didn’t end up in the neighborhood we wanted or in the venue we picked, but because we stayed flexible to the mission, God blessed it, His way.
- Bad weather and holidays: One nasty February morning we walked into our venue to the kid’s space completely flooded and frozen. It was our first year and we couldn’t afford to cancel a service due to momentum and money. So, on the spot, we stopped and listened to the voice of God. We decided to combine the service with kids and family and do a family service. We had the worship team put on sunglasses and lead a couple kids’ songs too. Everyone loved it and it turned into a thing we started to do randomly or on holiday Sundays to avoid empty seats. For a season, it started to draw families and gave space for students and kids to do announcements, preach, lead worship, and invite their families who didn’t go to our church. Now, instead of family services we do child dedications, baptisms, and special events on holiday weekends to leverage family in town and to avoid having momentum killer weekends. Most of the time it works. Stay flexible.
- Staffing: We’ve begun to hire now. We have 6 staff members and will be moving to 8 or even 10 this year. One thing we say during the interview process or within our staff structure – “you may start somewhere but end up somewhere else.” We are mission first, position second. We were interviewing a candidate for a location pastor role and in the middle of the convo, I heard the Holy Spirit say, “this is your family pastor.” While on the phone, I switched the convo and asked if he’d be open to this role instead. Next thing you know, we had our family guy – and we are very happy! On our paid and volunteer staff, people have moved around a bunch and they know that every time we grow, we have to change our structure. No one holds onto what they do too tightly.
- Limitations: We have incredible limitations planting a church in a city in the northeast. However, we often leverage these limitations as inspirations. Why? Because we use limitations as an engine for innovation. We have been teaching this idea of being flexible to our church and volunteers since day 1 and the culture we have is completely committed to it. Some examples: We have no parking in our morning location, so we saved and budgeted to valet cars (especially in the winter). There were times we couldn’t pay for all the signage we’ve needed for events, so we made them ourselves and it turned into a creative culture that built teams and brought “creatives” to our church. We’ve also become “friends” with our venues (like I go out to eat with the owners) and they’ve given us great benefits to have staff meetings on off-nights and have sponsored BIG outreach events like Thanksgiving for free. We weren’t able to launch a new campus site with video, so we started one at night to figure out what we were doing. We’ve been canoeing mountains getting a Sunday night culture to work, but slowly it is harvesting fruit. We have no music studio or access to a professional one, so we recorded in a basement and released our own music EP. Finally, when church planting, you need money and everyone in my house needed to work. My wife has a degree in teaching, but didn’t want to teach. However, an opportunity at a school came up that seemed right. She took the job anyway. Thankfully, she’s never had to teach a day in her life and has risen to a leadership role in the organization, while employing almost 20 people from our church.
- Portable Ministry: In other words, we don’t own or lease a building that we have access to 24/7. We’ve had times where we didn’t have enough chairs because the venue took them on an event and didn’t tell us, so we had kids sit on the floor with mats mid service (our team stayed flexible). There have been times when our venue told us we couldn’t have church in our venue and we couldn’t find an alternate venue, so we did an outreach instead of service. There have been times where our venue wouldn’t let us do Sunday for holidays, so we utilized an alternative day of the week or have rented out BIGGER venues for major events. We’ve also decided to take an entire Sunday off once a year to rest our volunteers. To avoid exhaustion, we’ve worked it out to store all our equipment at our venues if we assist our venues with other things. We’ve used the property next door to our venue to house our interns. We’ve used neighborhood rec centers for small groups and the list just goes on and on.
What’s the point?
The point I’m trying to make is that our willingness to be flexible and roll with the punches have led us to great moments we didn’t expect or couldn’t have planned ourselves. God is for you and your ministry. If you’d trust the disappointments as opportunities and leverage them, you might experience a great deal of success on the other side. God could simply be redirecting you from average to exceptional.
Closing thought and practical step:
When something happens you don’t like, when you get bad news, or when things are out of the ordinary – Stop and listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit. Say God, ‘what are you saying right now, what opportunity is on the horizon?’ Then, be patient and eagerly look and listen for the harvest He longs to give you. Changing directions could be the catalyst you need for your harvest.