Church Planting: Sustainable Planting (part one)

This is the twelfth installment in a series based on my adventures in planting a church.  For more information on the series, or to see what else we have walked through, check out the original post.  My hope is to use this series to develop a resource for planters as they are thinking about diving in, or need to process their current situation… this resource is incomplete without your contribution (that is a subtle way of saying leave a comment).

Let’s be honest: a church is only as healthy as its leadership.

We commonly talk about how a church leader can only take their congregation to the places that they have been:generous churches are lead by generous pastors, praying churches are lead by praying pastors, and so on and so forth.  It is with this in mind that I’d like to spend a little bit of time thinking through planting a church in a way that is healthy and sustainable… both for the planter, and the planter’s family.  Today, let’s focus on the planter, on Tuesday we will talk a little bit about planting in a healthy way from a family perspective.

As I have been preparing to write this post I have been reminded of stories of pastoral burnout, and the heartache that comes from families that have not survived church planting (or ministry for that matter) due to the issues that arise in the course of the journey.  Last week, Scott Couchenour shared the following infographic (you can find this at the Asbury Seedbed) on his blog that should scare everyone in ministry:

 So how do we prevent this burnout?  How do we plant a church and do ministry in a sustainable way?  While I am by no means an expert on this, and am in many ways still trying to figure this out, I think that we need to intentionally be monitoring four things in our lives:

  • Physical Health.  We need to take care of ourselves.  While I walk a fine line between encourager and hypocrite here, I acknowledge that this is something that I struggle with.  Caring for our bodies, getting regular check ups, eating well, and exercise are hugely important in keeping our bodies healthy enough to do ministry, and not act as a distraction from what we are called to do.
  • Emotional Health.  This is stressful work, and often times it is work that seems to be filled with failures.  Many of us are wired to be incredibly passionate in our work, which serves us well.  The dark side of this passion is that we can take failures incredibly hard.  We can also be easily susceptible to depression.  The stress, challenges, pressures, and relational difficulties of ministry can add up to make for a highly unhealthy leader unless we are intentionally monitoring our emotional health and getting the help we need.
  • Spiritual Health.  We all go through seasons where we feel as though we are in the spiritual desert, and seasons where we feel as though our cup is overfilling.  Through it all, it is important to maintain the intentional rhythms that enable us to be consistently growing in our faith… even when we feel distant from God.  Surrounding yourself with mentors who are willing and able to challenge you when needed is incredibly helpful in making sure that you are spiritually healthy through the journey.
  • Rest.  The graphic makes it clear: 90% of pastors say they work more than 50 hours a week, yet feel as though they don’t get their work done.  The hard truth is that our work will never be done… and when it is done, it will be because Christ has returned, not because we have completed it.  Yes, a sense of urgency about our work is important.  Yes, we need to be diligent in our work.  But we also need to be a good steward of the body, and abilities that we have been entrusted with.  I am convinced that burnout is not good stewardship. Take your day off.  Take a vacation.  Find a way to stimulate your mind and body outside of church.  A friend describes it this way: in ministry he works with his mind, so he Sabbaths by using his hands.   For me this means cooking, gardening, and fishing… make the effort to find your way to Sabbath.

As I mentioned, I am by no means an expert in this… I would suspect that few are.  We, the church planting and church leadership community, need to hear your voice in this.

How have YOU managed to minister in a sustainable way?


About the Author: Matt Steen

I love Jesus, Theresa (my wife), the Redskins & Capitals, and am currently living in Waco, Texas where I am studying the finer points of BBQ (while working on my MDiv and MBA at Baylor University). When not studying, I serve church leaders through and am the Director of Connections for Harris Creek Baptist Church's Downtown Campus.

  • Lars Grijsen

    Leadership and sustainability is very important for churchplanting. But, what do you mean with ‘sustainability’? Do you have some common definition. 

    I would say that sustainability could mean that you don’t put more into it than that you’ll get out of it. For leadership it means that a churchplanter doesn’t relocate some leaders from the motherchurch, but that the leaders will grow up from the plant. Just some thoughts. I’m curious for your thoughts about this.

    • Matt Steen

      Great question, Lars!  

      In my mind sustainable church planting has more to do with leading church plant without burning yourself, or your family, out.  Doing this well means developing systems that allow you to NOT have to be the one doing everything.

      I am curious about your comment about not relocating leaders from the mother church…  I would think that a mother church who is truly wanting to plant churches is looking forward to sending people out, giving the new plant a solid foundation from which to build off of…  While I have seen churches succeed without a team sent out, it is infinitely more difficult to go it alone.

      • Lars Grijsen

        About the relocating thing; I think it would be nice to have a startersteam with some good people in it from the motherschurch. But after not too long, the plant has to grow leaders by herself. Not good people from other churches joining the plant, but new people, converts :).  I think that is sustainable. 

        • Matt Steen

          I think we are saying the same thing…

  • Pingback: What Church Planting Taught Me -