A common reason why many prefer church planting over taking an existing church is to avoid the problems, dysfunctions, and baggage that comes with every existing church. Without exception, every local church has “issues” that do not go away during the interim period. In fact, they often grow worse. Many of the problems can be traced back to the previous pastors (at least the church members typically do).
This is a common question from pastors I get as they approach around the 12-18 month mark of their time at their new church, which is usually just enough time to assess accurately what landmine you have walked into. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you sift through the baggage and settle in for the long haul:
Approach them as your problems. When doing marriage counseling, at some point you end up saying, “It is no longer her debt, but your debt. It is no longer his family issue, but your family issue.” My father paid for every dime of my college education only for me to marry into school debt. Don’t worry…she is worth it! We all experience this to some degree as we enter into marriage and we cannot do so begrudgingly. The same mentality must be approached when taking an existing church to pastor. You didn’t cause the dysfunction, but it is now your stewardship under God to deal with and do so with joy and hope in the power of the gospel to change it.
Remind the church you weren’t there when it started. Although a faithful pastor takes on these problems now as his own, don’t forget you didn’t cause the mess. We are kind of like a janitor with a Bible. We didn’t cause the mess, but everyone expects us to clean it up. Yet, a helpful trump card to remember as you try to shepherd your people in a more healthy direction is this one…you didn’t cause the problem. You inherited it. There is a clarity of thinking that will come with always remembering that reality, especially when you upset someone by your efforts to correct the problem.
Solve them with your longevity as the pastor in mind. Just because you didn’t cause the problem, doesn’t mean you can’t make it worse by trying to change or correct something to quickly. Formulate a plan to improve the struggles in the church and if it doesn’t involve faithful exposition of God’s Word while you shepherd and love these people over many years of serving them…you are moving too quickly.
If you are at the 1-2 year mark and are asking, “What did I get myself into?” Hang in there. God can and will work through your faithful preaching, discipling, and shepherding those who are His people with time. Stay faithful. Stay a long time. Remember these 3 suggestions as you pray and plan for the future.
By the way, church plants always develop their own baggage and “issues.” There is no escaping it either way when the church is filled with sinners saved only by the grace of God in Christ.