An update on my church planting journey

In the past couple weeks, I’ve realized that I haven’t let everyone know “where I’m at” with the Vineyard Church of Waterville. So I’m long overdue with an update! In the words of the great Inigo Montoya: “Let me ‘splain…No, there is too much. Let me sum up.”

(Although this journey is very much a shared partnership with my wife, I’m going to only speak for my experience, not ours. It’s safer that way. Emily and I are very much in agreement with where we are but I’m incredibly poor at speaking for her! She does a much better job speaking for herself! Our kids have been a very active part of this processing too. But again, I’ll speak for myself!)

Back in May, I closed the church plant I’d been pastoring in Waterville, Maine. I thought we were shutting down version 1.0 in order to take a break and then launch VCW 2.0 by Easter 2009. Our board and sending pastor were really gracious. They wanted me to rest over the summer. My only homework was to ponder questions like: What would my perfect life look like? and Where in the last 6 months had I felt truly alive? Great coaching questions like that. (Emily was asked those too.)

It’s humbling being part of a church planting movement that really values people over programs. Usually, I’d hear organizations say they valued people but they wanted to be sure the lights stayed on in the building. But the Vineyard East folks were willing to have the lights go out rather than have a pastoral couple burnout.

Well, resting was hard. I am used to working 2-3 jobs. Plus, there was the institutional life of the church that kept on going: board meetings, processing donations, etc. (Yep, people still tithed even though we weren’t meeting!) And, even though I knew closing the church wasn’t a bad thing, I did go through times of mourning, tears, and second-guessing. Still do even now. One of my games to help me through hardest part of this season was creating an “OH, that’s why the church closed” list of things I did. Like brewing my own beer. Or going to a movie. Or taking the kids to a pub for dinner. Or enjoying quoting The Life of Brian. 🙂

As I prayed about the next steps, and worked on the questions, it became pretty apparent that I didn’t want to be the lead pastor in a VCW 2.0.

I enjoyed the regular group of people that called VCW their home. We’d been through a lot in the last 3-4 years! I loved the teaching and people told me my teaching helped them in their relationship to Jesus. I really got good at organizing servant evangelism outreaches. Over the years, I’ve consistently exhibited a gifting in helping a small group of people produce an extraordinary amount of results. (In about 3 1/2 years, our little group of 25-30 touched over 5,000 individuals in our communities with practical ways of showing God’s love!)

But effectively starting a church really requires a gift-mix that includes an ability to draw a crowd. Close in four years of church planting, and more than 20 years of being a Christian, this is a gift I’ve never exhibited.

So, in September, I resigned as pastor of the Vineyard Church of Waterville. It is incredibly gratifying to know that the Lewiston Vineyard (our sending church) still wants a Vineyard up here and that the Waterville folks still want a Vineyard up here! It’s good to know the church will restart, even though I won’t be part of it.

I really miss the privilege of being an active part in people’s spiritual growth. And it’s sad to know that I won’t be part of that. Having the former pastor in a congregation only works in very special circumstances. People keep looking to the former pastor for cues about how the new one is doing. Most often, it confuses people and undermines the new pastor’s authority and leadership.

Please join me in praying that VCW gets a pastor or pastoral couple with a different gift mix than I had. The folks that live up here really deserve the best!

As for me, I’m trusting God to lead me as my family and I move forward. I still think church planting is in my future at some point. But taking a rest is nice. I’ve actually had more time to enjoy my family and just “be” with them than ever before.

Finding a church was odd. We went to the Lewiston Vineyard and the Portland Vineyard for the summer and fall. But that wasn’t sustainable: we weren’t able to plug into small groups or develop relationships with people in either location. So we’ve recently started attending a United Methodist church 5 minutes from our house. What a treat! They even did a Vineyard song on our first Sunday.

And I’m really grateful for a terrific job and that people continue to buy my fundraising book and invite me to give fundraising seminars.

Waterville, Maine is a neat place to live. If you’re ever in the area, let me know. I’d love share a taste of my latest brew!

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Marc A. Pitman

Marc A. Pitman helps leaders lead their teams with more effectiveness and less stress. The author of "Ask Without Fear!®," he is the founder of The Concord Leadership Group and FundraisingCoach.com. He's also the executive director of TheNonprofitAcademy.com and an Advisory Panel member of Rogare, a prestigious international fundraising think tank. He is the husband to his best friend and the father of three amazing kids. And if you drive by him on the road, he’ll be singing 80’s tunes loud enough to embarrass his family! You can connect with him on Google+, on Twitter @marcapitman, and like "Ask Without Fear!" on Facebook. To get his free ebook on 21 ways to get board members engaged with fundraising, go to http://thenonprofitacademy.com/21waysebook

2 thoughts on “An update on my church planting journey”

  1. Thanks, Marc, for your candor in this post. I did catch bits and pieces of the closing of VCW over the past few months and was just about to get in touch with you for more details. The timing of your post is perfect.

    I had wanted to speak with you about the closing of VCW since I have been part of a similar size church plant for the past three years here in Brampton, Ontario, Canada. And while it saddens me to see a church like VCW close its doors, even if only for a season, believe me it is even more painful to see a church keep its doors open when they should be closed.

    I am glad that you chose to make prayer and God’s direction your standard rather than bow to pride and human desire. I am glad that you do not view your church family as nothing more than a source of revenue and/or workers to staff programs. And I am glad that you have the spine to openly share your struggles with all of us, your friends and family.

    I can’t even begin to imagine what a painful and difficult process it must have been for you to close the doors, but I believe it will prove to be worth it.

    You may not ever fully realize the breadth of the impact such an act of humility will have, but I am certain that God will honor this step of faith, showing your commitment to the VCW family and God’s provision by allowing him to appoint another pastor.

    I believe Paul said it best:

    And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. – Philippians 1:6

    Cheers,

    Larry

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