Thinking of Planting a Church in a City? Start Here… 

Church planters—if you’re called to a city and you’re married, your whole family ought to feel called.

Now that I’m in my 3rd year of planting churches in New York City (a city I’ve called home for nearly 15 years), I have had the opportunity to sit down with a fair number of prospective church planters who dream of starting a church here.

Through many missteps and difficulties of my own, I’ve learned to give similar advice to anyone interested in planting a church in NYC, or any urban environment for that matter.

I should say, I’ve learned to continually give myself the following advice, because I realize I will be a beginner all my life in the pursuit of God (Merton).

Confirm the Call… as a Family

I think it goes without saying that Pastors should be called to plant a church in a city before actually going through with the endeavor of starting a church.  What’s often missing is the question, “What about your spouse?”

If my marriage and family are my first calling before any vocation, then the call to plant a church must be done in a way that honors the distinct lives of my spouse and kids.

Pastoring a church is already a difficult task – planting and pastoring an urban church can intensify the difficulty with the inherent inconveniences/struggles that come with both entrepreneurship and urban living.

The sense of call then, must be paramount.  And the call must be something that my spouse also receives from God, lest the tensions of city life create deeper discord in my most important ministry – my family.

Calling is often what keeps us going in the desert, and this calling must be shared by both spouses to sustain a church planting family in the inevitable trying seasons of church planting life.

*For those of you who are single and considering a call to plant a church in the city, this dynamic is certainly less applicable to you! Nonetheless, if you’re single and looking to marry one day, you are to approach any potential marriage relationship the same way – as if this relationship takes precedence over any “calling” you might have to a particular place.   

Set a Regular Rhythm of Prayer, Rest, & Work for your Life

Cities are often stressful environments.  There are more people, more traffic, more financial costs, and more inconveniences as a result.

I must be proactive in prioritizing the elements that will make for a long-standing, sustainable ministry; otherwise the demands of church planting and life in the city will crowd out what’s truly most important in the long run.

While Prayer and Rest are two ultra-important tasks of a church planter and pastor, these priorities can so often seem the least urgent on my tasklist.  Thus, I need to be extra-dogged in establishing a rhythm of prayer, rest, and work so that I have enough to give and serve out of a healthy place, rather than a depleted one.

I can live and function without prayer and rest for only so long – but I can never have a sustained life of fruitful ministry without establishing these values in my life.

Die Daily to Selfish Ambition

Today, cities have become awfully popular places for people to live and work and play.  Urbanization is real, and the draw of cities is especially appealing to young people with dreams of influencing the world.

The size of our towering buildings in cities demonstrate the ambition therein – cities are magnets for people with grandiose hopes for themselves.

The same can be said of church planters in general, as I know there’s a bit (or a lot) of foolish ambition we can carry in terms of self-importance.

And to take the idea of ambition one step further, being an urban church planter can feed into an inflated ego even more, especially when considering the clout one may get by being a successful urban church planter whose accomplishments may reverberate around the world.

Hence, the need to die daily to this selfish ambition.

Living and planting a church in New York City, I’ve come to realize that this city is so massive and so overwhelming that there is no way that my sole efforts can capture the scope of need in this city.

In other words, I’m not all that.

Only Jesus can reach and change a city.

And He chooses to do so through His Church, expressed through multiple churches throughout a city working for the glory of His name, and His name alone.

Moreover, I’m simply joining into a work in this city that God has been doing long before I arrive through names and faces I may never meet, but whose prayers and tears and service have sown seeds of a kingdom that I am but only a part.

The more I can die to my own ambition and seek a more worthy one, the better off I will be in planting a church with the right kind of spirit.

Published January 28, 2017

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