Church Planting is probably one of the hardest jobs that I have tackled in my 25 years of ministry. I must be a real glutton for suffering because shortly after I planted the church that I currently lead, we merged with a dying legacy church in the heart of the demographic that God called us to serve. So the vibrant church plant turned into an ongoing revitalization project that is now approaching its fifth birthday.
One of the most difficult undertakings was merging two completely different church bodies into one healthy organization. Unity is not a given even though it was our goal as we approached this daunting endeavor. We did not want to lose anyone in the process of merging the churches but I now realize this was an impossible thought.
We found that two completely different ways of approaching goals are not easily overcome. There were two mindsets to consider, first, we had the Church Plant. Everything was new, exciting and untested. As a new work, we routinely found ourselves charting new territory. The organic plant was fresh and it allowed us to release bow lines and try things differently without fear. We were allowed to chart our own course and quickly begin to develop our own church unique.
Second, the legacy church that we merged with was in desperate need. They needed major help quickly. They needed a fresh perspective and a course realignment. The old church had experienced a long period of growth that eventually led to a plateau. As the church people aged and the neighborhood began to change, the plateau turned into a steady decline which took its toll on the old membership. Poor decisions by their leadership and the neglect of the facility brought on a death spiral that was not going to quickly or easily be corrected, especially by a small inexperienced organic church plant, that barely had its footing. In the process, we made many mistakes.
We found the greatest challenge in merging the two congregations was overcoming the reputation of the Legacy Church in the community. Our efforts at unifying began to prove futile as we tried to connect with our closest neighbors around our campus. We valiantly tried to breathe new life into the recently merged church and almost immediately began to experience pushback from the legacy membership.
Construction and repair projects to make the buildings usable often caused discord with the older church membership. They had gotten used to sitting in the disrepair and dysfunction. Many from the old congregation wanted to continue doing business in the same manner that led to their decline. Our young church plant was ill-prepared to deal with these kinds of problems early on so we began to lose people from the legacy church. Unifying the body proved difficult at best.
In reflecting on the past 4 years of ministry, I cannot help but think about Unity in the Body. I am talking about the body of Christ. The church is the body and it is the method that God ordained to carry the gospel into the world. The merge knocked us off mission for a while but with careful planning and the right people on the bus, we are finally seeing progress. Our early missteps not only took its toll on the old membership, it also hurt some of the people that signed on to be part of the planting team. We lost some great people during the merge and that took its toll on me.
Psalm 133:1: says “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony!” Harmony is this verse means unity. I have learned much in the past four years. If I could somehow go back in time, I know now that I would have done some of the things differently. I am so thankful for the planting team that started with me and readily took on this effort. For those who joined us along the way I am extremely thankful, each of you brought a new perspective to our situation and I am thankful that you are a part of the team.
Early on we had to move quickly because some major financial and building issues required prompt attention. Unfortunately, some of the old congregation did not have the proper time to process all that was taking place. Because of the discord, we lost many of the legacy members. I am very thankful for those who stayed with us. I now believe that they can see the improvements that have been made and understand the direction that we are going.
In talking about unity I am reminded of a passage of scripture Hebrews chapter 10 that can help.
19 Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. Hebrews 10:19-25
How can this passage help us unify? In verse 19, we must realize why we have this confidence. It is because of the blood of Jesus. He truly paid it all on calvary’s ugly cross long ago. We must realize that the Church is about Him and that it is not about us. The Church is about what he has done in us and for us. We need to let our light shine brightly in the communities He has called us to serve.
We mus draw near (verse 22) with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith. What allows us to hold fast to the confession of our hope is our faith in Him. We are to be dealers in hope. We are to stimulate (v. 24) and encourage one another. So in thinking about our history, I am listing three practices that can help ensure we are unifying in a healthy manner. I want to encourage each of you to daily practice these steps.
1. We need to be filled with the Spirit daily. We do not talk enough about the need to be filled with the Holy Spirit. His control of our lives helps to keeps the main thing the main thing. We are to rest in Him by staying clean and close. Being filled with the Holy Spirit allows us to unify around His cause. When this happens, the body cannot help but be healthy. Unity is impossible without men and women being filled with the Spirit.
2. We need to make the Great Commission the #1 priority.
There is only one thing, and I mean only one thing, that keeps a church unified and that is the priority of the Great Commission. When a church is committed to the ultimate priority of presenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations, we can then experience a supernatural unity that only God can give us. It is one thing to say it, but it is totally another thing to live it out. When we are so convinced this is God’s mission for us in this world, everything else becomes secondary, including ego and independence. I am firmly convinced that God commands a special anointing upon the life of a church that lives this out in the unity of the Spirit.
3. We need to pray for unity. We need to pray for a spiritual awakening. When we pray “His Kingdom Come” “His will be done” it changes everything. It makes it about Him and not about us. We should want “His will” done in our churches. When God’s will is done, unity comes.
I pray that this might help you. Church Planting is difficult work. Church revitalizations are even more difficult. I would encourage you to take on the work with a total dependence on God who really wants you to succeed. As you lead, seek first His righteousness. Ask Him to help you chart the course. And then enjoy the journey.
I love you all!