We’re moving to…

The last two years have been amazing.

On July 1, 2007 I wrapped up my pastoral service at Northgate Church in Batavia, New York. That was a day that has forever impacted how I view God and the mission of the church. We baptized 163 people that day! (read it here)

We packed up, sold our house (one year later) and headed down south to Mountain Lake Church to learn how to plant a church! We spent one year in a church planting residency through churchplanters.com learning from the experts: Shawn Lovejoy, David Putman, and a host of others!

During our time there, God called us to Cincinnati to plant Walls Down Church. We had a clear vision of what God wanted to do so we developed a plan, built a team, generated funds, and set about the work of planting a church. As you may know, Walls Down never launched. It didn’t launch BUT, the dream hasn’t changed, the passion hasn’t devolved, and the confidence… ahhh the confidence, while it comes from a new source (Christ) it is stronger than ever!

Over the last several months we have been seeking God’s desire for our lives. We’ve prayed, traveled, sought counsel from mentors and friends, read Scripture, fasted, journaled, and wondered… or wandered (we did both!). We’ve had opportunities ranging from California to Illinois, from Pennsylvania to Georgia, and from Colorado to Ohio. The salaries have ranged from “Oh my gosh that’s great” to “Oh my gosh, that’s awful.” The diversity of people groups and the emphasis of the various local churches has been interesting! We’ve had a love/hate experience with these last several months – loving the adventure and hating the uncertainty.

The decision of where to go came down to the two smallest churches, both with similar stories. Both churches were planted 10-15 years ago. Neither church owns a building. Both churches stated that it’s time to refocus and even relaunch.

After much prayer we determined that God’s place for us was the church located in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

This is a church that was planted ten years ago and commissioned to be a church planting church. They are the only Free Methodist Church in South Carolina. There are a handful of committed, passionate, talented, and courageous people at this church. I am looking forward to getting to know them. God has prepared my family and me. God has prepared the people of the church in Rock Hill. God is bringing us together to continue writing His story of the redemptive mission of the church.

I am excited about this opportunity because it allows me to serve in a role that I’m familiar with – bringing a new focus to a church, AND it allows me to scratch my church planting itch!

The mission is clear – help people discover and live the life Jesus promised.

The location is clear – for us, it starts in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

And for now one more thing is clear… there’s a lot of packing to do so I may as well get to it!

Three tips for fundraisers

Ben Franklin had some great advice for fundraisers!

  1. Ask people you KNOW will give.
  2. Ask those who might give. Let them know what you’ve raised so far. If appropriate, show them who’s already given.
  3. Ask those you know won’t give. They may surprise you! NEVER say “No” for someone! Give them a chance to surprise you!

Of course this assumes that you represent a cause worth giving to AND have shared a compelling vision AND have laid out a strategy/plan that represents thoughtful leadership.

Why didn’t the church plant survive? (Part 1)

First of all, thanks to each of you who have connected with us since we announced that we would not be launching Walls Down Church. Your encouraging words, inspired prayers, and gracious offers have moved us deeply. We are blessed to have friends like you. Thank you.

Now to the issue at hand – why didn’t Walls Down Church ever take off?

Keep in mind that we are still close to the event so some of these answers may mature as time goes by. It is also possible that more “reasons” will become apparent with time and distance. At this point however, there are four reasons that I can point to that answer the question, “Why didn’t Walls Down take off?”

God had a different plan

We thought we were moving to Cincinnati to start a church. Looking back on it, it appears as if God moved us here to break us and develop us.  I wrote about what God was/is doing in our hearts in a post called, “Take it all away.”

In my last update to our board of directors, I wrote these words which summarize what I think God has done/is doing:

After months of working a good plan with minimal results, we have decided to conclude our church planting effort. This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but it is the right decision.

During this process God has done much in our hearts. We conclude this effort confident that the vision of helping people find the life Jesus promised not only should but can be accomplished, and humble enough to know that we cannot do it alone.

We came into this venture with solid leadership credentials, the best training (thank you churchplanters.com), a clear vision, a solid strategy, adequate financing, a small team, and a ton of passion and determination. We had every reason to believe that we would not only succeed but be a “benchmark for effective church planting principles.” As we exit this venture I realize this… God needed to break me. I was set up for success but experienced failure. This failure has resulted in one thing – a revolution in my heart, a recognition that who I am is more important than what I do. I walk away from this experience persuaded that I am accepted and loved by God… and that is enough.

The other day in my quiet time I wrote these words in my journal (from God to me), “Paul whether you are preaching to thousands on the weekend from a pulpit or serving steak to hundreds at a steakhouse is of no concern to me. What matters is that I love you and you love me. Out of this conviction will flow meaning and purpose for you and others.”

Men, I am more broken, humiliated, lonely, disappointed, and hurt than I have been at any point in my faith journey, and YET paradoxically, I am more confident, determined, passionate, and ready than at any point. In my hurt I trust my Father. I am confident of His love for me, my family, and all of those that we could have ministered to. I believe His intentions are good and wise and though I may never understand them, I am persuaded that they all flow from a heart of love with an eye both to present transformation and future good. I love Jesus more today than I did yesterday and I rest in the fact that He too loves me.

At the end of the day guys, no matter what else may or may not be true, I believe that God is the boss. I do not blame Him for my inadequacies or shortcomings, but rather, after having given our best efforts to a good plan that didn’t work, I trust Him.

What is God’s plan? I’m not sure yet, but we’ll know in time. Until and even then we will follow His leadership.

Staffing

David Putman (one of my church planting coaches) says that every church planting team should consist of three types of leaders:

  1. Visionary Communicator (Lead Pastor)
  2. Creative/Tech (Worship Pastor)
  3. Detail/Implementer (Connection Pastor)

When we started our church planting journey we had three people on the team: lead pastor, executive pastor, children’s pastor. Our sense was that we could, as others have, work with part-time worship leaders and just “make do” until we hired a full-time worship pastor.

When we moved into the area, our executive/administrative person felt God pulling them in a different direction. We worked diligently to build the team and fill those critical roles outlined by David Putman. After many conversations, lots of $ invested in travel, meals, phone calls, etc. we simply were not able to put together the right team.

Recently I did some figuring. I had 15 people say “No” to my”ask”, and I said “No” to four great people that I didn’t feel were ready to be on the team.

There were multiple times when a prospective team member would say “No” that I would say, “Okay” and feel a peace in my heart about the decision. However, there were several times when I heard “No” that I pushed back. In several different conversations I said something like, “I hear your ‘No’, and I respect it, but I don’t have the same peace with it that you do. Help me understand it.” Often the answer went something like this, “We loved the area, the vision, the plan, and even loved you guys. We’d love to be there, but for some reason, God is not giving us a green light on this one.” In several instances it made sense for the individual in question to make the move here, but at the end of the day, God didn’t give a “go” to the move. I didn’t understand then, but I trusted my Leader (Jesus). I think I’m getting a better grasp on it now (see point #1).

The biggest staffing shortfall for us was the lack of a worship leader. It’s really hard to generate and sustain excitment and energy without music. When we had core group meetings and Preview Services we tried showing some music videos = dorky. We tried not having music and acting like it was supposed to be that way = awkward. We tried recruiting musicians = unless you have money and momentum that’s an exercise in futility (of course there are some exceptions). This was a big hole for us that we were not able to fill.

As far as the “Detail/Implementer” role goes… Rindy Walton was incredible. She stepped up to the plate and learned a ton. She created timelines, spreadsheets, and inventories. She set up databases, secured insurance, created ministry descriptions, volunteer handbooks, and successfully navigated  through a TON of details. She implemented, executed, and carried on valiantly. She was a pleasure to work with.

At the end of the day, the practical church planting lesson is this: you really do need a team to start with. I’m sure that there are exceptions, but that’s the point… they’re exceptions. A team is more important in a new church than in an existing one because that’s all you’ve got! In an existing church there is some infrastructure that you can rely on as you move forward, but when you’re starting, the only thing you’ve got is the team!

(Don’t misunderstand me on this one. Team is ALWAYS important, but having been on both sides of the plate I can say that team is more critical when you’re first starting. One illustration will prove this: when you’re in an existing church and your worship leader doesn’t show up, you at least have a base to draw from. If you don’t like this illustration then plug in any of the following examples: secretary, children’s worker, facilities, etc.)

David Putman is right – “There are at lease three types of leaders every church plant would benefit greatly from when building a launch team.” (read his article here)

Core Group Development

What is a core group? The core group works harder, gives more, prays more, and feels the weight of the vision more than any other group in the church. (I wrote about it here).

Essentially the “core group” is the group of people that are in the building ready to serve, love, and lead when unchurched/new people walk through the door. They’re the ones who make up “critical mass.” When they’re there, there’s energy. When they’re not there, you hear things like “Is this it?” (one man actually said this to me when he came to one of our preview services!). Their presence generates excitement and momentum… a sense of “something’s happening here.”  While we had some wonderful people join our effort, at the end of the day it simply wasn’t enough to move us into the critical mass level.

We spent a ton of time, energy, and money working to build a core group. We had picnics, small groups, core group services, one-on-one meals, and vision casting meetings. We marketed through fliers, door hangers, road signs, Facebook, MySpace, blogs, website, business cards, and word of mouth. We developed a plan to meet people, build relationships, and when appropriate invite them to join us. (Rindy wrote about it here.)

The bottom line is, we underestimated what it would take to build a core group. A key lesson learned from this:

  • At least in our area, it’s hard to “market in” a core group. You really need a pre-existing relational network to begin with. This often happens when there’s a “mother church” who gives relational funding to the new church (e.g. they send 10, 20, 30 families to help the new church start). I’m also aware of several church plants in this area who’s relational network was the result of the pastor having lived/ministered in the area and consequently developing relational credibility. We didn’t have that. We thought we could build it quickly and market the rest in. We were wrong.

Finances

Finances by itself is not a deal-breaker for a church plant. However, when it is in conjunction with no staff, and no core group it is the proverbial “straw that breaks the camel’s back.” No people + no money = no Walls Down.

I’m convinced that had we been able to build the team and core group, money would have been no issue.

We invested money into marketing (e.g. signs, website, FREE Re-Think money conference for churches and community) and developing relationships (e.g. coffee meetings, small groups, core group meetings), but at the end of the day it wasn’t enough.

Please don’t misunderstand me on this point. I’m not saying that Walls Down didn’t work because of inadequate funding. I’m saying that insufficient funds IN ADDITION to insufficient human resources IN ADDITION to what God was up to resulted in the decision to conclude our church planting effort.

In summary, I had to make a decision regarding Walls Down Church: Does our position require a new strategy, renewed effort and additional funding? If so, we press on. On the other hand, have we simply reached the end? Is our position one that increased effort and funding will only prolong the inevitable? I was inspired by a Seth Godin quote (from his book, The Dip), “Successful people quit all the time. They just quit the right things.” I determined, after much prayer, conversation with my bride, teammates, mentors, and peers that the right thing to do was to conclude our effort.

Several of you have asked specific questions regarding our decision. In the days/weeks to come, I will be answering those. In the meantime, thanks for traveling with us!

So why did you guys pull the plug on the church plant

Over the next weeks/months I’m going to be answering a lot of questions I’ve been asked or that or that have been implied regarding our decision to conclude our church planting effort.

This has potential to be a huge learning experience for all of us (particularly church planters).

Why do this? The truth is that a ton of church planters  have had and will have similar experiences, so let’s all learn from them together. If we had succeeded we would have shared what we learned (like my friend Shaun King). Because I believe in the “Get and Give” principle (get some learnin’ then give it to someone else), I want to explore our church planting experience with you. Perhaps you will learn something that will encourage you, change your mind, clarify a decision, prevent a mistake, or something else.

So, what kinds of questions do you have? By the way, you don’t have to be a church planter to ask questions! You can be a friend, a supporter, a skeptic, or just a normal dude drinking a brewskie reading the blog…

You can respond with a comment, send me a message on Twitter (@paulpeterson), or shoot me an e-mail (link is in the upper left hand corner).

Oh, and one more thing, if you see a question you want to answer… go for it! Let’s make this a learning experience!

Some Walls Down Waddup

Hey guys! This is the toughest “waddup” I’ve ever written. Several years ago God began to stir a desire for something new in my heart. After exploring it through prayer, long conversations with my bride, consultation with mentors and friends, and deep thought, I concluded that God was calling us to start a church.

We left behind wonderful friends, a great church, a secure income, a nice home, and a secure future to prepare for this next phase of our lives.

We packed up and moved to Cumming, GA to be “church planting residents” at Mountain Lake Church in conjunction with churchplanters.com. While we were there we learned from the best church planting minds in the country. Shawn Lovejoy, David Putman, and a host of others mentored us, answered our questions, and created an incedible learning experience.

While in Atlanta, God clearly called us to Cincinnati, OH, and He gave us a clear vision of what He wanted to accomplish. Throughout the year, we built a team, secured funding, developed a strategy, and laid the groundwork for Walls Down Church.

In July of 2008, we moved to Cincinnati. We got right to work on our plan. We met people, marketed the church, worked on systems, hosted picnics, secured a facility, started meeting weekly with anyone who would come (and some did), continued learning from local church planters, and on and on and on…

We were told by several church planters, “You guys are the best prepared church plant we’ve ever seen.” We, of course, felt good about that and continued to work our plan. Along the way we had to make some adjustments but we worked the plan with diligence and determination.

The bottom line is that our plan didn’t work. Even though we did many “right things”, our best efforts simply were not enough. One of our coaches actually said to us, “I don’t know what else to tell you guys to do.”

So, about six weeks ago I made the hardest decision I’ve ever made. I determined, after fasting, prayer, tons of conversations with mentors and peers, long talks with my bride and my team, and plenty of walks by the river, that the right thing to do was to conclude our church planting effort. The fact is that we will not be planting Walls Down Church in Cincinnati.

We are disappointed with this outcome. We thought we’d roll into Cincinnati, start the church, and then write the book on how to do it in the north. Apparently God had other plans. We thought we were coming to plant a church. It appears that God called us here to break us. Job well done God.

This has been a fairly visible experience and consequently provided us with ample opportunity for humility. We were endorsed by some prestigious church planting organizations: churchplanters.com, Association of Related Churches, and even the Free Methodist Church partnered with us. We had individual churches partnering with us ranging from Southern Baptist to Nazarene and a host of wonderful individuals committed money, prayer, encouragement, and love on the journey. A lot of people were invested in and watching this process.

Someone asked me the other day, “How do you feel?” Well, I feel like you would feel if you gave your life, time,  energy, passion, money, and even family to chasing a dream, starting a new business, a new ministry, a new relationship, etc. and it didn’t work out. It feels terrible. That’s how I feel. God has broken me, and yet in the midst of hurt and disappointment there is confidence, passion, and determination. We know that the vision God has put in our hearts is a right one. We also know that church planting is a tool. A strategy. We will not stop pursuing this vision. We will simply pick up a new tool… embrace a new strategy.

Many have asked, “What’s next?” We are committed to the vision of helping people find and live the life Jesus promised. We are exploring various ministry opportunities, but at this point we are not certain exactly what our next step will be, though we are certain there will be one!

There are many questions I’ve left unanswered for now. We’ll get around to answering them in due time. For now we are living in humility and confidence – humility when it comes to how we view ourselves, and confidence when it comes to how we view our Father and His power that works in and through those who trust in Him!

Ohhh… I have so much more to say, but for now it is enough to say that our best plans have not worked, and yet His best plan is at work deep in our hearts and lives.

On a related note, many of you have asked, “How is Rindy doing?” She answers this question over on her blog.

Thanks to all of you who have traveled this journey with us and let me assure you, the journey is not over; it has just begun!

Confidence and humility

Reading from Tim Keller’s book Reason for God I came across these words that quite adequately describe my experience (all bolding is my own).

When my own personal grasp of the gospel was very weak, my self-view swung wildly between two poles. When I was performing up to my standards – in academic work, professional achievement, or relationships – I felt confident but not humble. I was likely to be proud and unsympathetic to failing people. When I was not living up to my standards, I felt humble but not confident, a failure.

I discovered, however, that the gospel contained the resources to build a unique identity. In Christ I could know I was accepted by grace, not despite my flaws, but because I was willing to admit them. The Christian gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. It undermines both swaggering and sniveling. I cannot feel superior to anyone, and yet I have nothing to prove to anyone. I do not think more of myself or less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less. I don’t need to notice myself – how I’m doing, how I’m being regarded – so often.

These days I am experiencing the paradox of profound humility and deep confidence… both at the same time! Why? I am experiencing a fresh understanding of who God is and who I am in relationship to Him.

How about you? What happens to your “self-image” when you are a huge success? Perhaps more importantly, what happens to your self-image when you fail?

Take it all away

I used to say, “Sometimes God will leave you with nothing so that you have to trust Him for everything.” I would say that and then go back to my world of “everything” (job security, nice income, prestigious position, and on and on and on). In other words, I was teaching something that I believed but hadn’t fully experienced.

Then one day God called me to plant a church.

Over the last two years God has slowly taken “everything” from me. The things I loved, drew self-worth from, received affirmation for, and was good at… all of those things have been taken from me. Things like teaching, leading a team, loving a church, being a pastor… things like that. In addition (or should I say “subtraction”) my pride has been stripped away and I find myself in the very humbling position of trying to build a church with no money, a miniscule number of people, and a heck of a lot less confidence than I had two years ago.

All of a sudden I find myself living what I had taught, “Sometimes God leaves us with nothing so that we have to trust Him for everything.”

For the last six months God has been pressing me with one question, “Am I enough, or do you need more to make you happy.” Of course I know the answer to that… in my head. In my heart however I have struggled to answer with a resounding “yes”.

A couple of weeks ago, Sherri and I went to Atlanta for the churchplanters.com conference (the home of our church planting residency). I thought we’d go there, learn a few best-practices, come back and implement them and see Walls Down church simply explode… a tribute to my effective leadership. I was wrong.

It seemed that most of the speakers at the conference had a similar theme. Two of them even used this exact phrase, “Is Jesus enough?” On Tuesday, at that conference, Sherri and I put our knees on the floor and said, “Jesus, you are enough. If our dreams never come true… you are enough. No matter what happens, doesn’t happen, may happen, or may not happen… you are enough.”

Since that Tuesday afternoon, we have been reaffirming that commitment to Christ and seeking to live it out every day. It’s amazing. There is a spiritual awakening happening in my heart and in our home these days… something for which we have longed but not experienced in a long time… maybe because we had “everything.”

These days I’m trusting God more and myself less. These days I’m learning what it is to trust God for everything, and I’m finding that it is not so bad! These days I’m actually beginning to think it’s a good thing when God takes it all away.

How about you? What if you were stripped of “everything”? Would you need it back… or would Jesus be enough?