1. Work on a team.
If there isn’t someone on your team who can tell you when you’re wrong without starting a fight, you’ll end up with an ineffective ministry. Your partners will help you edit your work, behavior, and foundation so that the community that grows from those norms is not adversely affected. Work with someone who has different skills and a different perspective on your shared vision. With at least two people collaborating on the vision others start to see and participate in the vision separate from the leadership, rather than seeing one charismatic leader as the only source of vision.
2. Church planting is not about you.
This is not about the music you like, the sermons you want to preach, the people you want to hang out with. This isn’t about how charming or not charming you are or how many people like you. And when someone hates your preaching, that isn’t about you either. You will constantly be representing other powers and principalities to people, and you will be regularly tripping over the triggers of people’s traumas. Try to walk gently, to listen, to apologize, to hear what people need you to hear. Continue to preach the Good News as it is given to you for the people you are called to.
3. When you see unhealthiness, address it.
Particularly early on you are building a communal DNA. People are building an implicit or explicit understanding of what it is that we do and don’t do here. Don’t let someone’s unaddressed inappropriate behavior confuse the forming community, or worse invite them to act in kind. Some people won’t appreciate their behavior being addressed—but the good news is there are likely plenty of churches in your local area that would be happy to welcome them and not address their bad behavior.
4. Explain who you are and what you do—everywhere.
Put it on your walls; as the Old Testament tells us, post it over your doors. People don’t know what church congregations do and people don’t know what they’re supposed to do upon entering a church. They feel nervous and insecure about their behavior, their clothes, their skills, their pasts. When you invite them to do or not do certain things, invite everyone together. Explain why we do whatever you are asking folks to do, and make it clear that you didn’t expect everyone walking in to just already know. It is the difference between these two scenarios: A new mom with a crying baby feels uncomfortable because she doesn’t know whether to wait it out or leave the service, and even if she were to leave, she has no idea where to go in a strange building. Or, a scenario wherein a pastoral leader or liturgist announces to the congregation, brand new visiting mom included, that one of our joys as a church is to worship together and that the laughter and crying and shifting of people of all ages reminds us that God is with us, that if anyone needs to step out or use the restroom it is down the hall to the left.
5. Be willing to do what you ask the children to do.
Children recognize when you respect them, and if you only offer them faith experiences that you would never undertake yourself, they learn pretty quickly that faith practices are something they will outgrow. Adults will follow your lead as well. When you are willing to be childish, communal vulnerability will grow from there. The same principle is true for answering the questions you ask in Bible study or around the table at dinner. People get their queues on the appropriate level of vulnerability from the leader in their midst. Be willing to be honest and be willing to seem silly.
The Rev. Karen Rohrer is director of the Church Planting Initiative at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Before joining the CPI team, Karen was co-pastor and co-founder of Beacon, a Presbyterian Church in the Kensington section of Philadelphia. The saints of Beacon taught her contextual ministry, the joy of being church, and the unique grace of being a lady pastor and boss in a neighborhood of matriarchs. The building of Beacon taught her amateur handy-woman and moisture remediation skills, and that a particular space really can be a reminder that you are loved. As director of the Church Planting Initiative, she is excited to vision new ways the church can bear good news to the world, and to support and resource the leaders God is calling forth to make it so.