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I'm tagging along with Amy at the grocery store. It's my day off. We're walking through the produce section and chatting about what makes a great salad. The produce section is my favorite part of the store; I'm a fruit-oholic.
I push the cart around the first aisle, and now we're in the canned foods section—soup, beans, pineapple chunks. Amy loves it when I shop with her, because I always throw extra things in the cart! I'm a little impatient as I lean on the handle. We're in a hurry to get to the theater. We rarely miss our Friday afternoon movie date. The PA system plays a song I like. I hum along and do some people watching—and see a face I know in the coffee aisle. We'll call him Bill.
Bill has one of those handheld baskets on his arm. I see that What are you doing here? look on his face. For some reason, people are usually surprised to encounter their pastor at the grocery store. I clap a hand on Bill's shoulder. "how you been, man?"
He hesitates for just a moment. "Good. I'm good. You?"
What's up with Bill? he seems a little uncomfortable. My mind sorts through the Bill files and tells me I haven't seen his family at church for a while. So maybe that's it: absentee guilt. I need to subtly let him know that I'm not here to play the attendance card, so I'm extra friendly. "I hear your boy's going out for football. You must be excited."
"Oh ... Yeah, that's right. He is," says Bill. He looks down at the Colombian Blend in his hand for a moment, then says, "Brian, I've been meaning to tell you; we've been going to another church." He looks as if he's afraid I'm going to grab him by the throat and start choking him.
"Okay, well, that's great," I say, with a smile to let him know that it's all good. "Which church?" he tells me. "Lots of good things going on there," I say. "Their pastor is a friend of mine."
"Yeah," says Bill, relaxing a bit, a burden sliding from his shoulders. Still, it feels as if the two of us are in a funeral home, standing before the casket. I just hang loose for a minute, because if I walk away now, it will seem abrupt—as if I have no interest in someone who is no longer part of my church. Bill says, "It's just, you know, it's just more ... um, right for my family where we are now."
"Tell me a little more about that," I say. "I'm interested."
"Well," Bill says slowly, "I don't know, I guess we feel we're getting fed more where we are now. Nothing personal, Brian! It's just a better fit, especially since our kids are getting older. You know we love you and Amy—and we are going to continue to send all of our unchurched friends to West Ridge."
"Absolutely, Bill, you just be sure you plug in wherever you are. That's the big thing, to find the best place for you to serve God; and whenever there's anything we can do for you, you know where to find us."
"I appreciate that, Brian. I really do. You say hi to Amy for me."
"I'll do that," I say with a smile, and I go to catch up with my wife.
She's in the pasta section. "Vermicelli or angel hair?" she asks without looking up.
"Was that Bill?"
"Yeah, that was him. We caught up. I'll tell you about it in the truck."
We spot a couple other members of our church before we check out. We smile, chat a few minutes, and promise to pray for some of the needs they mention. Finally we've loaded all our groceries into the backseat, and we're in the truck and buckled up.
"Okay, tell me about Bill," says Amy.
"He and his family have changed churches."
"Oh. They weren't angry or unhappy or anything, were they?"
"Not really—at least I don't think so. They just feel their new church is a better fit."
We sit quietly for a moment. Amy says with a grin, "Let me guess. He said they love West Ridge and it's not personal, right?"
"So why do we feel it personally whenever someone leaves, whenever they say they fit better somewhere else?"
"Because, in a certain way, it is absolutely personal. No matter how much we're committed to God's kingdom, we're just going to feel it this way, because building a church is a personal thing." I turn the key, crank the engine, and look over my shoulder before starting to pull out of our parking space.
"You can say that again," Amy says. "It's like giving birth. The church is a part of who we are, and we feel very protective of it."
"And it's about love and people," I add. "The little bits of ourselves that we pour into building a church that is actually a family."
Amy nods. "Makes me think about our boys. Either of us would give our lives for Taylor and Zach, but think about this: What if one of my friends came up to me and said, 'I just love Taylor. You must be very proud of him. Zach, not so much—nothing personal. But I love Taylor!"
"I would not like to hear that."
"Because our two boys are the world to us. Both of them. We've poured our lives into Taylor and Zachary. So if you tell us you don't like one of our boys, well, that's pretty personal."
"I think you've hit it," I reply. "Those of us in the ministry don't punch the clock and go home and draw a curtain over that part of life. What I speak about during my sermons is so much of what Christ has done inside of me and what I've learned from studying his Word."
"You can only speak as God leads you, and you know that you can't please all the people all the time."
"Yeah. In ministry, you'd go crazy if you didn't get that through your thick skull. Still, I can tell you that I've prayed for Bill. I've prayed for his family, and when I stand up to bring a message from God, I'm wanting, from the deepest part of my soul, for him to use me to help Bill and guys like him connect with God. When I meet with the staff at the church to help plan the worship ser vice, everything we do is geared for that. The message, the songs, the videos—these are not products. We've poured ourselves all over those things."
We fall silent as we continue the drive home. Amy looks out at the houses and parks, the joggers and the kids playing. I know she is thinking about the personal price of ministry in the real world. It can consume you if you're not very careful, very discerning. It's the art of painting precise boundary lines.
This is a truth for any pastor's family, but church planting takes it to the next level. It's one of the ultimate challenges in church leadership. Building a new church forces you to cling to God, to become totally dependent upon him. The best and worst moments in your life are going to come. You're going to celebrate on the mountain peak one day, grieve in the valley the next.
We're thinking about all these things, Amy and I.
"If we had to do this all over again, would you do it the same way?" asks Amy.
"Yeah, I think I would. But you can't really separate the church part. Our journey. Ministry. Marriage. Family. They all seem scrambled up into one thing."
"Exactly. Have we done the best we could to keep them untangled?"
I think for a moment. "I believe so. I'm not saying we've nailed it. I can think of a few little do-overs I wouldn't mind. But you know what? I can't imagine missing out on all that God has done here."
"Good," Amy says with a big smile. "I agree! I just wanted to hear you say it."
"It's been personal," I say. "It's gotten very personal at times. When I stand back on a Sunday morning and take a look at our church—you know, wide-angle lens, the big picture—I see something that has God's fingerprints all over it, but also mine. And yours. And the friends and family who have been with us from the very beginning. I guess a painter can create a picture of some beautiful landscape, and it's a picture of something nobody but God could make—but art lovers can look at that picture and know exactly who the painter was. Because it's personal. It has the painter's style. A church is built from the blood, sweat, and tears of the people who build it in God's power."
Amy is thinking about this book we've agreed to write. "So how do we explain this to church planters?"
"Now, there's a good question," I say, just as we pull into our driveway. "I guess I would start by saying what we've just said — that it's very personal. That it's the adventure of a lifetime. You can expect to pay a high price, and if you hang in there, you will have the opportunity to see God do amazing things that only he can do. Because it's personal to him. He personally gave his own Son for each person we are trying to reach."
"Yeah, that's good."
"Then I'd look a church planter in the eye and ask him to tell me about his calling."
As we bring in our groceries, our minds go back to the beginning of our story.
In the Beginning
When does life begin for a congregation?
A church is like a child. It is a living being long before it sees the light of day. As far as our community was concerned, West Ridge Church was born on September 7, 1997. But it was conceived months earlier, in March of 1996, in the hearts of Amy and me. We had felt a call to start a church, and there was a moment in our time together when we knew we were saying yes to that call. From that moment, it was like planning for a birth. We had questions, dreams, hope, fear, excitement, good advice, and naive ideas. Just as expectant parents begin to change once they start the nine-month countdown, so we were changed by knowing that God wanted to use us to bring a brand-new church—a fresh new part of the body of Christ—into life and ser vice.
Excerpted from It's Personal by Brian Bloye Amy Bloye Copyright © 2012 by Brian and Amy Bloye. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Foreword Andy Stanley 11
1 Why Is Church Planting So Personal? 15
2 How Do You Know You Are Called to Plant a Church? 27
3 How Do You Launch a Healthy Church? 49
4 How Do You Protect Your Marriage While Planting a Church? 65
5 How Do You Plant a Church without Losing Your Family? 87
6 How Do You Deal with Growth and Change? 109
7 How Do You Build and Lead a Staff? 131
8 Is It Safe to Have Friendships Inside and Outside the Church? 153
9 Can You Remain Authentic in Ministry? 171
10 Why Is Spiritual Vitality So Important? 191
11 How Can You Thrive in the Journey? 211
12 When Does It Become Too Personal? 229
Posted October 8, 2013
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