Sitting alone at an outdoor cafe near his Queens apartment on a warm, sunny Monday afternoon, a young church planter stares at his laptop. He’s not getting much work done, because he’s not really sure where to start.
When he signed up for church planting, he could have never imagined it would lead him to this mental and emotional headspace, where a vast to-do list swims in his head as he tries to prioritize tasks, navigate conflicts and relationships, balance church planting with his family marriage and personal life. This is all while he tries to keep his physical body renewed and refreshed to commit to the long-term call and manage the stress that comes along with it, even as he may experience frightening physical effects of stress.
This church planter’s story is not at all unique. In fact, though this may be a fictional scenario, many church planters may be nodding in agreement as they read, identifying immediately and empathizing with how it feels to be here, as they’ve been there themselves. Maybe they have struggled through and made it to the other side. Or maybe they’ve committed to church planting for a time and then found they had to move on to other opportunities because the overwhelm became too much. Tragically, many pastors have found also themselves struggling with depression or anxiety, in addition to church plants closing when pastors feel they can’t continue in their role.
But even for healthy church plants and leaders, there is still a massive amount of work to do, all of which require relational, spiritual, cultural, and strategic agility.
Church planters constantly ride an emotional roller coaster, experiencing the highest highs of kingdom fruitfulness and the lowest lows of spiritual darkness.
It’s a conversation that the church can’t afford to avoid: how do we support, equip, and guide the leaders of new church plants as they lead others to Christ?
CTC New York City, though known for church planter training and strengthening, has realized there’s an answer to this question, and it happens outside of the training classroom.
One of the best ways for church planters to navigate the world of church planting and everything that comes with it is to know they’re not doing it alone.
Here are three tangible ways we’ve found that a church planting coach can encourage and walk alongside a church planter to elevate their ministry and help protect them from the overwhelming loneliness and stress that their ministry may bring them through.
1. They bring strategic clarity and contextualization to the mission of the church plant.
As a mentor and guide, the coach is there to help bring clarity to the mission of the church plant. This is critical because a church planter may be paralyzed by their to-do list – full of large and small projects such as planning a sermon series or writing an update to supporters. On top of that, they may be navigating difficult relationships and the joys and sorrows of shepherding the church. In a time where quarantine fosters isolation, and disagreements easily bloom over new or necessary requirements like vaccinations, the planter may feel the stormy waves of ministry day in and day out.
The coach can step in and help prioritize projects, or help delegate what can be worked on by others – a newsletter to supporters could be assisted by a small group leader close to leadership, while the church planter works on the sermon series and passes it on to a local theological student in the congregation to edit, thus freeing up time for the church planter to focus on what’s most important: contextualizing ministry to their neighborhood and reaching people for the Kingdom. A coach could also triage conflicts or problems in a way that makes it manageable for the planter to see a clear path forward.
Since they’ve already been where the planter is, they can also offer valuable insight and advice from seasons they’ve already weathered, neighborhoods they are familiar with and can aid with contextualizing ministry to a particular area with its unique strengths and weaknesses. They act as a voice of encouragement that while sometimes weeping may last for the night, joy always comes in the morning.
2. They ask the critical questions that planters aren’t asking of themselves and their ministries.
A coach, while close to the church planter and their ministry, is also an outside perspective, which can be essential to the health and growth of the planter and the church itself. They can see where they need to ask critical questions of the planter. A planter may feel isolated and like no one understands what they’re going through when their leadership or peers don’t ask “how are you really doing?” In a relational sense, a coach who can ask the hard questions: what’s going well? What are you struggling with in your personal life? – can then clarify where real help is needed, whether that’s counseling, specific training, or connecting the planter with others who have the expertise or knowledge they need. They can also help the planter navigate new and unfamiliar concerns, like future funding, lease concerns, or tension with leadership.
By asking these critical questions, a church planting coach can also serve as a trusted friend who can see past the “put together” leader front a planter may put up. If they are willing to deeply listen and seek to understand, the planter will feel more comfortable sharing things like, ‘my marriage is suffering because I can’t remember the last time my wife and I had a date night where I could ask her how she was doing when she had the uninterrupted time to share a real answer with me, let alone that I can’t turn off my constantly buzzing phone.’ The coach might realize they easily can fill a tangible need: finding a volunteer babysitter in the church community who would joyfully offer a few hours, no questions asked.
Through intentional conversation and active listening, they might hear the planter share that in 2020-2021, church planting has looked like planting from his home office, while managing virtual school for his two children, one of which has autism and struggles intensely with the drastic, unexpected changes to her everyday life. There’s another tangible need. Most church planters would agree that they feel the added tension of a pandemic on top of nurturing budding ministries. It hasn’t been easy for anyone, but especially those whose work is rooted in relationships with others.
But what’s really poignant about this mentor relationship is that they’re doing exactly what the church planter would be doing with their own church community members: active listening and low-key relational ministry, and offering simple kindnesses like meeting tangible needs or even buying a cup of coffee. The coach thus continuously both encourages and refocuses the planter on the real important work: people, not projects.
3. They point the church planter back to Jesus and remind them where their true identity lies.
This is undoubtedly the most important role a coach can play in the life of a church planter. When a church planter loses focus of the reason they are planting and the reason to keep going, the tasks, projects, meetings, stress – it all becomes insurmountable and purposeless.
A church planter who has lost sight of where their true identity lies aren’t much help to their ministry. They need someone to remind them that their identity is in Jesus and that their value isn’t measured by the number of church members they gain. The coach, by reinforcing Gospel truth in the heart of the planter, strengthens the church plant itself, not just the person they are encouraging. A planter with the right focus directly on Jesus is more of a gift to his or her community than someone who finishes everything on their to-do list or preaches a “perfect” sermon.
It’s important to note that this relationship is an ongoing process, and unique to each planter and coach. No amount of training can meet every need of a church planter. But it’s clear to us at CTC NYC that planters desperately need a coach to walk with them through the journey of starting a new church. In return, a coach becomes more than just a professional connection – they are a guide, a friend, a sounding board, a way to process and contextualize what they’re learning, and a safe place. Their role in church planting can’t be understated – and this relationship might be something a church planter can’t afford to overlook or skip.
To learn more about coaching, or to find a church planting coach, reach out to us at our website and check out our resources designed to support, equip, and encourage church planters.