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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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!

Fixing my eyes

Today has been a l-o-n-g day. Really long.

But my best friend (my wife) encouraged me to grab a beer and go out on the patio to read. So with a Smithwick’s and a copy of C.S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian, I came across this quote:

“Lucy went first, biting her lip and trying not to say all the things she thought of saying to Susan. But she forgot them when she fixed her eyes on Aslan.”

And I was undone.

I needed to be reminded of that.