Gathering a church plant team can be one of the most enjoyable aspects of church planting. You get to meet new people. People you already know will commit to doing this life changing thing with you. I get so excited when people join our church planting teams I wish I could shower them with confetti.
However, once the confetti has settled, issues can arise and you might be faced with unsettling relational situations. Since you end up pouring so much into each other and because emotions tend to run high in church planting, these sticky relationships can cause a lot of stress for wives.
There are several things you can do before and after these relational issues arise to get through the tough times and to also manage your own expectations.
Before: Things to do before members join your church planting team
Make no mistake about it, when people join your church planting team they are making a very big decision. They wouldn’t be there if they didn’t want to make an impact for God’s kingdom. If someone wants to join your team chances are they are ready to give of their time and resources to help see the church built.
Along with this level of sacrificial commitment comes a variety of expectations. Team members may have high hopes this church will be different from the one they used to attend. They may dream of seeing certain ministries come into existence. They may expect the pastor to behave or speak a certain way. In the end, not all of your team members’ wishes and dreams are going to come true. It’s important for planters and wives to understand upfront that eventually someone is going to be disappointed or even disgruntled about something.
Here are some specific things you can do before conflict or disagreement arises.
- Be selective.
While it may be tempting to accept any and all help when trying to gather a core team, it is wise to start out with a screening process. Before you get started you may see signs that certain people won’t be the greatest fit for your church plant team. You can even interview potential team members. At some point, whether it’s through conversation or a sit down interview, you should find out the following information from each person:
- Why are you interested in being a part of this church planting team?
- What do you hope God does through this church?
- How do you see yourself serving here?
- From your perspective, what is going well in the church (the church in the broad sense or your church if you’ve already started)?
- From your perspective, what about the church needs to change?
I’m sure there are more questions you could ask potential team members, but I wanted to list a few for you to get the idea. It’s okay to ask people questions before you dive into the deep end of ministry together. It’s a big deal and we ought to treat it that way. If you don’t think someone’s a match for your church plant you may have to suggest they find another group more in line with their way of thinking, or if you think they will be teachable, let them know ahead of time they may have to change their perspective on some issues.
2. Set clear expectations for chosen team members.
As a teacher, I understand how starting out with loose expectations can impact a groups’ success. If I don’t begin the school year, day, or lesson with set expectations, the results are usually less than desirable. The same is important for church planting. When you’re leading a group getting ready to plant, it’s critical they know what you’re hoping to see happen. If you expect them to give financially, you might as well say it now. If you expect them to treat each other with kindness and avoid gossip, say it. Whatever you think is essential to live in a Biblical community, get it out in the open from the start. However, if you failed to do that early on, it’s never to late to set the expectations. Cast vision. Make all the non-negotiables clear. If you do, your team will be more able to help you do the work. If you are the kind of leader who likes to set these expectations with their core team, that’s fine too as long as you’re able to set expectations.
After: Things to do if conflict arises after people have joined your team
Like I mentioned before, at some point along the way team members will be disappointed or disgruntled. It’s unfortunate, but usually unavoidable. Knowing this, how are we supposed to deal with uncomfortable relational situations when they do arise?
Here are some suggestions for how to get through the conflict:
- Pray! Lift the situation up to God and pray for the person who is giving you trouble. If your heart is in the wrong place, pray anyway. God will use our faithful prayers to do even more than we can imagine!
- Understand not everything is the end of the world. As a church planter’s wife I have learned that I don’t have to worry about every little conflict that occurs. Sure, John has gotten really good about not involving me in everything, but I’ve also learned to deal with the small stuff more objectively. I have learned to say, “That’s okay. It’s their opinion and they are entitled to their own opinion. We can still serve the Lord together on the same team.” If a situation isn’t really that big of a deal, try to let it go. If you can’t let it go, then you’re going to have to talk about it with the right people.
- Talk about it. Don’t get caught up in thinking you don’t want to talk about the situation because it won’t help. There is a biblical model for conflict resolution and it starts with directly confronting the situation. Here are the verses that talk about this model of conflict resolution.
If Your Brother Sins Against You
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Matthew 18: 15-20
If the situation is really bad and just won’t go away, then go to the person first. Tell them how you’re feeling. Explain why their words or actions are causing problems. They may not even realize you are having such a problem with their attitude or actions if you don’t say it. If that doesn’t work follow the biblical model prescribed in Matthew. The goal is to be in agreement so the work of the Lord can be done, so don’t avoid conflict just because you don’t like dealing with it.
- If all else fails, ask them to leave your church plant team. Ask them to find another church. What? Your’e kidding, right? I’d never ask someone to leave our church plant team! If this is what you’re thinking right now, I’d like to make a case for this extreme measure. Now it all depends on the situation, but if someone is openly sinning or causing the church to exist in chaos, there is no place for them there. If the situation goes on, the entire church could even go under. Are you willing to do what it takes to carry out the mission God has set before you? There’s no time for nonsense in church planting. If you and the leaders of your church believe a person or family needs to go, then you may have to ask them to leave.
I’ve suggested a lot of tools for dealing with conflict on church plant teams. Know what you’re getting into, prepare team members for what’s to come, don’t sweat the small stuff, and deal directly with conflict just like it says in the Bible. I hope these tools help you to get through relational challenges in church planting. Ultimately, I hope you remember we serve an almighty and powerful God and he will help you!
I’d like to end this post with one of my new favorite scriptures found in the book of Job. The verse I’m going to give you comes from a passage where Job is expounding upon God’s wonderful qualities. Even though he is in a dire situation, he praises the Lord for all he has done. Then he says,
“Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?” Job 26: 14
You are mighty! You can move mountains! You can move hearts! Help us to trust in you even when our hearts are broken. Help us to trust you when we are disappointed or become bitter because of messed up relationships. Lord, we ask that you would put people in our lives to show us love through any attack. We ask that you would provide unity and harmony on our church plant teams. We love you and want to serve you. Don’t let anything get in the way of our service to you, Oh Lord.