8 Lessons From a Failed Church Planter (pt.1) – Jeremy Austill
8 Lessons From a Failed Church Planter (pt.1)

From 2008-2011 we planted and pastored a church. That church (organizationally speaking) does not exist today. In essence, I failed, but I learned so much and my heart was changed.

I have quite a few friends who are church planters (many of whom have actually been quite successful). Usually, when taking advice, asking for input, or seeking counsel, we search for those who are at the pinnacle. We like to hear from those who are as “successful” as we aspire to one day become. I’m not that guy.

** During that season of our lives some very precious people allowed us to be their pastor. I have no desire to dishonor those who were a part of that journey. They were generous, gracious, understanding, patient, loyal, and very supportive. They just happened to be present during a season of my life in which the Lord was changing me…teaching me lessons…humbling me.

I did not become an expert church planting guru, but I gained some invaluable perspective. So here are 4 of the 8 lessons I learned as a “failed” church planter.

**You can read part 2 of “8 Lessons From a Failed Church Planter HERE

There are worse things than failing

It’s a bit of a leadership cliche, but failing at something is not the end of the world. I was ages 30-32 when we were planting and pastoring. I am 40 years old today, and in the midst of one of the most fruitful, rewarding, vibrant, fulfilling stretches of my life. I am convinced my “failure” was a part of the process. Do you know what’s worse than failing? Living your whole life governed by “what if it doesn’t work”. In the aftermath of resigning from the church / plant, I still had a pulse. The call of God had not been rescinded. His promises were not revoked. Sure, there was some wilderness wandering as we sorted through the experience, but we eventually made our way into a land flowing with milk and honey. Speaking of the wilderness…

In the wilderness, make sure the right thing dies

Emotionally and spiritually, the church planting experience and processing the lack of desired results was a wilderness. It was painful, filled with doubt, fear, anger, frustration, regret, uncertainty, and confusion. In those seasons of life, something is going to die. Make sure the right thing dies. Either your faith, hope, love, devotion, passion, and obedience dies, or, your insecurity, pride, fear, self-centeredness, flesh, and pursuit of validation from illegitimate sources dies. It’s up to you which one expires.

Stressing over results can be demoralizing

Much of the wilderness was induced by my own personal evaluation system…how many are coming? I can still feel the unbelievable tension of staring out the window in our pre-launch house meetings, hoping “enough” people showed up. That same anxiety loomed each week. It was unrelenting. One problem, among many, is there were NEVER “enough” people. There is only ONE who is ENOUGH. We had a stretch about 1.5-2 years into the process that we had 100-125 people attending. Momentum was good, but I kept looking out of the window. Another problem with results is, to varying degrees, they are out of our control. Sometimes it just doesn’t work the way you planned, and when your personal value is too connected to a result, it is demoralizing.

Being someone else doesn’t work

As a result of stressing over results, I became a copy cat…a parrot…an inferior version of other ministers. It all started when I went to a church planting conference. This is not criticism of the hosts, guest speakers, or the methodology to which the conference espoused…it just wasn’t me. Nonetheless, it worked for them so I employed a good bit of the methodology. It didn’t work for me. Why? Because the Lord had carefully raised me through the years. He exposed me to certain aspects of His Kingdom and nature. He brought me into specific arenas of influence and methodology. He raised me to be someone specific. Certainly a person can change. All of us need to evolve. However, there are certain roots we must never sever, otherwise we become a fabrication. It got so bad that I lost confidence in myself and my abilities. I started preaching Steven Furtick messages…Craig Groeschel messages…I’m talking straight ripping them. In retrospect, it’s one of the more embarrassing things I have done. I allowed my insecurity to dominate me. It’s why such practices are a pet peeve of mine these days. In general, it feels somewhat sad to succeed at being someone else.

**You can read part 2 at this link: 8 Lessons From a Failed Church Planter (pt. 2)


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