What I Learned from Planting a Church

BEING BORN

…the actual reckoning was like a tug of war in my mind.

At 8 a.m. that Sunday morning (two hours before service began) many of our launch team members came prepared to set up for the children’s ministry and worship service. Partitions and rocking chairs, foam mats and changing tables were ushered in. Speakers and microphones, guitars and a soundboard, a piano and projector were all brought up the stairs so we could praise the Lord as a local church family for the first time.

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Now I can honestly say I don’t believe any of our launch team knew what to expect. This was all uncharted territory for us. There was so much anticipation and so much faith that God wanted to do a great work in Lee’s Summit. But how would God accomplish this great work? And with whom would God accomplish it? There was much uncertainty. And I’d love to say I wasn’t nervous, but that simply wouldn’t be true. Psalm 127:1 was my rally cry, but the actual reckoning was like a tug of war in my mind.

Psalm 127:1 Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.

About 45 minutes before our service began, we prayed collectively (as we still do today) asking the Lord to be pleased with this celebration that was to honor him throughout that day and beyond. We asked him to guide and direct his church and to bless this work for the furtherance of the gospel and for the fullness of his glory. Fifteen minutes before our inaugural service, people started to trickle in, and then they kept coming and coming. We had to find more chairs and then more chairs after that. Some people we knew, but many people we didn’t. And there were definitely our fair share of tire-kickers. But wow! It was so encouraging to see and be a part of this first Sunday.

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I look back on this day with great fondness for all the Lord began to do on that day and continues to do even still to this day. I thank the Lord for the people he has placed in our lives, those who were/are a part of our launch team and those who joined shortly after. The Lord has been so good to give us people who want to be disciples of Jesus Christ, who are learning to be passionate about God’s mission. We’ve had the privilege of seeing souls saved, believers baptized, disciples equipped, bible studies established and lives forever altered for the sake of the gospel.

Our church is only 22 months old, but already many of the people who were beginning Discipleship 1 in April of last year are now active in ministry, leading others to Christ, and greatly desiring to see others built up in the faith as well. This is so exciting to see! Living Faith just began Discipleship 2 this September and currently, we have about 30 people faithfully attending and growing in leaps and bounds. I thank God for his faithfulness and kindness to include us in his ministry of reconciliation.

And while it is always fun to reminisce and even anticipate all that the Lord may do in Lee’s Summit and beyond, there have also been a few things that have taken me completely by surprise.

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THE GUEST SPEAKER

I didn’t know them and they didn’t know me.

Before becoming the pastor at Living Faith, I ministered to the college and young adults (C&YA) at Midtown Baptist Temple for over 8 years. I had grown to know and love this special group of people with my whole heart. I was full. I was blessed. They were my dearest friends and closest family. And they also knew me. They knew my bad jokes and goofy sense of humor. They were there when my wife and I had our 3 kids: Phinehas, Ezra, and Ruby. They listened to me preach close to 400 messages. (All I can say is sorry about that. That sounds brutal!) And God was present in all of it. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Needless to say, over this time we became incredibly close and very like-minded in regards to the ministry. If I was thinking something, I could bet that 10-20 other people were thinking the same thing. If a need arose, I knew that I wasn’t the only one who saw it. Nor was I alone to find the solution. This was so refreshing.

So when we transitioned to Living Faith, all of the familiarity and closeness of working with a growing team for 8 years was gone. It was as if I were a guest speaker for the first 6 months in my own church. Every Sunday I was trying to gauge where people were in their spiritual walks, and every Sunday they were trying to figure out who I was as well. I didn’t know them and they didn’t know me. It felt like a first date… for 6 months straight.

But this is also what excites me about Living Faith. God is doing the exact same thing that he did in C&YA here! We are becoming a team and, even more wonderful, a family. We are beginning to understand each other’s strengths, quirks, and weaknesses. And we’re learning to love one another in a way that must have seemed so foreign (maybe even forced) even just a year ago.

Looking back, I believe I took for granted what God had given me. And I’ll tell you what—a mature ministry is a beautiful thing to behold! And if you ever get the privilege to be a part of a work like that, you better hold on to it until God tells you to let go.

BACK TO THE BASICS

I felt really inadequate and unprepared.

Another humbling and surprising experience revolved around the inordinate amount of time I found it necessary to study topics like baptism, the Lord’s Supper, how to conduct a funeral, and other foundational aspects of the Christian faith. There were times I thought, “Dan, this is crazy! You know these things. You learned this back in D1.” And then I’d say, “Lord, I don’t know this and I don’t know how to do this! Please help.” Here are just a couple examples that come to mind.

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In regards to the Lord’s Supper, I had never led one of those services before. And I definitely didn’t want to mess it up. I had watched Pastor Sam Miles lead the church during this special hour numerous times. I had taken “Pastoral Procedures” in Shepherd School (long before LFBI). And while the Lord’s Supper has always been moving, I never really thought about how one day I may be required to lead this service as well. But now was the time, and I couldn’t hide behind my senior pastor. And to be honest, I felt really inadequate and unprepared.

Rather than dogma, I needed the Bible. What did the Word say? I mean seriously, where do you get those little juice plates anyway? Where do you find those crackers? And what types of crackers do you buy? We can’t have any salt on those bad boys… and if we even sniff leaven on that cracker, you might as well begin crying, “Unclean, unclean!”  Maybe that’s the unpardonable sin. Who knows? And then in regards to the Lord’s Supper message, is there a special handshake that I’m supposed to do? I think there is. (Notice I still don’t know.) Am I supposed to solemnly nod to the deacons? Should I nod once or twice? Is it like spiritual morse code?

I had to go back to the drawing board.

Also in that first year, we had many people getting saved and baptized. Praise the Lord. And at different times I’d have new believers ask me questions about baptism. And for the most part the answers came pretty easily. But there were some situations where I thought, how is it that I don’t know how to answer this question Biblically? I mean, I knew the answer, but I would struggle to give a scriptural answer to the question.

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And this is exactly what the Lord was teaching me. He was showing me that I may know the “right” answer, but I didn’t know the Biblical answer. In this manner, God was like a math teacher wanting me to show my work. He didn’t care that I got the right answer; he wanted to know if I knew how I got that answer. Could I repeat the process? Could I teach someone else the Biblical answer as well? The Lord was revealing to me (and continues to do so) that for many of my beliefs, my position was not an understood, biblically based position. I had heard these truths and the Bible (our final authority) was absolutely used to support key doctrines, but I hadn’t done the homework to know some of these truths (from the Bible) for myself. In some ways, while I hate to say it, I simply accepted what was taught. I knew it was Biblical, but I didn’t know it in MY Bible.

After Living Faith began, it wasn’t like I could just go to Pastor Sam, Pastor Best, Pastor Kenny after service to get the answer. (…For the record, I still do ask Pastor Sam many questions…) My point is this: as the Lord was growing his church in Lee’s Summit, I had people who were asking me, “Dan, why is this?” or “Dan, why is that?” And my response couldn’t be, “Well, because I said so”. We know that isn’t going to and shouldn’t fly. I need to show and teach people WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS on that topic.

So in many respects, I had to go back to the drawing board. I needed to remember the things that I had been taught. I needed to understand topics like baptism in MY Bible. I needed to understand the Lord’s Supper in MY Bible. And the list could literally go on and on.

PROTECTING UNITY

if our leadership will not stand united, then we will never accomplish the Great Commission.

Now as I close, I wouldn’t say that this last point was unexpected, but the voracity of the attack certainly has been surprising. Satan has consistently sought ways to divide our leadership’s unity. I think this is especially because many of our team had never worked together before the church plant; this was an easy door for him to walk through. And yet I’m just so happy to say that I praise God for how our team has responded.

Especially in the infant stages of Living Faith, as this baby was just learning to walk, every one of us was simply trying to do our part to see that the baby didn’t fall down. And yes, we know that ultimately this is all a work of the Lord, but we all just wanted to see Living Faith take those first baby steps. And in that process, we all were working together to see a miracle take place. And subsequently in that same season, Satan was also at work. Setting stumbling blocks as he could. Trying to find ways to get us to trip over one another, especially if at times we didn’t see eye to eye.

And while I know that this is a never-ending battle, I do believe Satan is especially active in the first few months/years of infancy for any new work. He wants to prevent it from getting to a place of maturity where it can begin to reproduce after its kind. Because of this we must also be actively protecting unity no matter the cost so that when we do reproduce, we are producing healthy children in the faith. Were we always successful in this arena? Absolutely not. But at the end of the day, I do believe our team was/is learning how to love one another despite our differences and how to value one another in the midst of our various perspectives when it comes to seeing this baby not only walk, but run.

This is my real closing. (That last time I said, “Now as I close…” let’s be honest, we all know that’s just pastor speak for, “I have 5 more things to tell you.” But this closing is legit.) I believe Satan knows that if our leadership will not stand united, then we will never accomplish the Great Commission. And so because of that, I would rather choose to be defrauded; I would rather choose to take the wrong with my brother or sister if it means God’s kingdom is expanded by one soul.

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Pastor Dan Reneau and and a handful of members from MBT were sent out by the Holy Spirit and confirmed by the pastors and leaders of Midtown Baptist Temple on January 1, 2017. One week later, on January 8, Living Faith Lee’s Summit had their first Sunday service.