It was an awful day. Four families had left our church, and all of their departures were messy. We were a young church plant, and I was ready to throw in the towel.
Then God spoke with His gentle rebuke, and I’ll never forget what He said: “Larry, did I tell you it was time to leave your church?”
“No.” It was all I could say. I was the one giving up on His appointment. “But with a young church, any departure leaves a very noticeable vacancy,” I reasoned with the Lord.
“Larry, you asked Me to speak to you plainly, and I’m telling you it’s not time to leave your church.”
I was relieved and humbled. I wondered if Moses felt the same way at the burning bush. Honestly, it would be the first of many times when the Lord and I would meet at my burning bush and speak plainly about my calling.
It was during one such meeting with the Lord that I realized something about my personality as a pastor, leader and church planter. God created me to appreciate the thrill of a good adrenaline rush. He knew planting a church would require fortitude and perseverance—along with just plain fearlessness.
For my 50th birthday my wife, Kelly, gave me the experience of jumping out of an airplane. She even included the parachute! The thrill was very much like pastoring a church, and I love both experiences. Taking that first step out of a plane knowing that there is nothing but air below you just does something inside a person. I’m glad God has made a place in His kingdom for people like me who thrive on the rush.
Like the time our city was facing financial crisis, and our church council agreed with me to make a financial gift to help. Who does that kind of thing? I say it’s people who don’t mind stepping out of a plane. The 120 folks who call themselves part of our church have bought into the idea. They adopted a local elementary school, praying for the students and providing school supplies for kids who might not otherwise have what they need to learn.
One of God’s gifts to me as a pastor is the opportunity I have to serve as team chaplain to the High Desert Mavericks, the Class A minor league baseball team affiliated with the Texas Rangers. We regularly conduct Bible studies with these young men and minister to them, as many of them are far from home and family as they try to break into the very competitive field of professional sports.
Last year, I was privileged to officiate at the wedding of a former Mavericks player who now lives in Colorado. He always told me that when he got married he wanted me to perform the ceremony. What an honor to be able to speak into the lives of these talented young athletes. I’m glad I didn’t throw in the towel during difficult times 12 years ago.
Because of what I have experienced in ministry, I am passionate about developing and supporting church planters—those people, like me, who are fearless but sometimes feel all alone. Since starting our church, God has opened the door for me to be an encouragement to about five different church planters. Because I don’t hold the title of “coach” and am not part of an established church-planting network, it sort of happens organically; I meet someone who needs encouragement, and I reach out and offer a sympathetic ear.
It can be a risk to call someone cold turkey and say: “Hi, I love you, and I’m praying for you. If you ever need someone to talk to, give me a call.” But it’s worth the risk. I just want other church planters to know they aren’t alone.
God has taught me some important principles about being a church planter and sustaining a ministry during the past 12 years:
- Prioritize personal discipleship in your life and in the lives of those you influence.
- Maintain passionate, personal communication with God.
- Stay connected with our Foursquare family. Here’s my cell phone number: 760.985.3095. Seriously, call me, and we’ll talk.
In 12 years, when another church planter looks back on his or her ministry success, it would be a thrill for me to know I had something to do with his or her longevity. But ultimately I realize it has little to do with me. Even when I preach on Sunday—and I’m always humbled when people show up to hear what I have to say—I realize God is much more concerned about my relationship with Him than about how well I preach.
So, I’m still growing and searching for new thrills in life and ministry. Every Sunday, I feel like I have a parachute on my back, but not because I’m anxious to bale out.
No, I’m looking for ways to encourage other church planters or people in our church and community. I want to help them keep going, to press forward, and maybe even to take a step they never thought they would take. I’ve discovered the thrill of accompanying people on their adventure of faith and the rush of experiencing with them what God wants to do.
Give me a call, and we’ll jump together.