As the campus pastor of a church plant, I have heard funny, sad and inspiring stories about what it is like to be a part of a new church in its earliest stages of life. It can be a painful process at times; church planters often work long hours for little pay in order to see the vision that God has given them fulfilled. Sometimes, it seems, vision is all they have, but in the tough times it can also be enough to get them by.
When I called church planter Bill Craig to interview him for this article, he was parked by the side of a busy Florida road with a banner advertising his new church plant attached to the side of his SUV.
"This is what you're willing to do when you're a church planter," he told me while laughing. His new church, Kaleomark Church, launched just one month ago and is the third church plant he has started and the fourth he's worked with in his 20-year career.
After leaving behind the financial security of the last church plant he was a part of, where there were about 500 regular attenders, Craig now supplements his family's income by stocking shelves at a local supermarket for $8.50 per hour. It's important for those who accept the call to become church planters to also find contentment in any financial situation, he said.
He and his wife have become used to living a humble life. While planting their first church in Ohio, the couple lived in a house in which the apartment above theirs leaked water from its bathroom down through their ceiling and into their kitchen. The overweight woman who lived upstairs was verbally abusive to her two children, and they would sometimes sneak downstairs just to receive hugs from Craig and his wife. Because of the leaks in the ceiling, and the fact that it creaked under the woman's weight, Craig said he was afraid that one day she would end up falling through it.
"My nightmare was that she was going to fall through one day...and this large, naked woman, who was absolutely evil to her kids, was going to fall on my kitchen table while I was eating breakfast, and I was going to lose my appetite for the rest of my life," he said jokingly.
He pointed out that both Jesus and the Apostle Paul were poor during their ministries, but the Father had called them to a mission they simply couldn't ignore. The vision for all church planters, he said, should be to share the Gospel message and accept whatever path God has laid out for them, even if it isn't convenient.
"The vision that keeps you going is...accepting whatever God sees for you and your future," he said.
Will Plitt, executive director of Plant NC, told me on Tuesday that every Gospel-centered church is called to live out the Great Commission, but said many church planters are also called to minister to a specific social and cultural context. He also said that, in addition to vision, it is important that a person feels called by God to be a church planter.
"If a man is not called to plant a church, it will be difficult to impossible as he leads his family into something that he might not be equipped or wired for," he said.
"Calling and vision many times kind of go hand in hand, because on those dark, difficult days and seasons where you feel alone, where you want to quit ...on those days all you have is calling and vision. And if you do not have a calling, and you do not have a strong vision, then it's just easy to jump ship."
When Plant NC assesses people who want to be church planters, they spend several hours with both the planter and his wife to make sure they are unified in the vision of starting a new church. If a person's wife and family aren't on board with the idea, he said, it can cause big problems later on.
And when it comes to gathering a group of people to help with a new church plant, Charles Hill, a church planter who was featured in part one of the "Inside Church Planting" series, expressed why it can be so difficult to do.
"It's the only place on earth where you are convincing people to come work for you, for free, every single week. They come work for you...Oh, and they pay you," he said. He later added, "That's why it's a Holy Spirit-thing."