Gary's a church planter in the northern part of the Atlanta redneckplex. His church has seen quite a bit of success - so much that he's admittedly surprised by it all. This makes him a frequent stop on the "I'm going to plant a church too" trail. In other words, church planters who are starting out often stop by Ridgestone to check it out.
The only problem is they do more talking than listening. I know Gary and he'd give his right arm for these planters, but it seems some of them take a look and say "only one arm?" Or worse yet, they just keep talking and forget the fact that they came to learn.
In a great post today, Gary gives tips on how to visit a church and learn. Great stuff.
It reminded me of our church planting days. Of course, we never drew Gary's numbers so they weren't exactly lining up to ask us questions. I was on the other end of the equation. Steve and Janie Sjogren would regularly open their home to area church planters, buy the pizza, and ask us if we wanted to hang out.
At this point, Steve's congregation was roughly the same as the population of Suriname. A group of twenty of us would show up. Our combined congregations numbered somewhere south of 500 on a good weekend. Those gatherings were fun, but never for the reason Steve thought they'd be.
Here was a ripe opportunity to learn from one of the best. A non-conservative, non-Cincinnatian, planting a church in hyper conservative Cincinnati, Steve went against all odds and planted anyway. No church in Cincinnati 'got it', but Cinciannatians did, and after a few years, the church grew like crazy. One would expect 20 church planters to sit at this guy's feet and ask a lot of questions.
They didn't. They talked...their plans, their budgets, their ideas, their core group. I knew that I didn't have much of a plan. No budget. Few ideas and a dinky core group. I didn't have much to offer, and it must have been obvious, because Steve took me under his wing. Every few weeks, we'd end up having coffee or driving somewhere or sitting in his basement watching yet another movie. The whole time, he taught. I think it was probably unintentional, but he was teaching...I was listening.
I remember specific gems, like...
- Love the first families that come, but know that they're probably scaffolding. You can't build without them, but they're not what you're building. That's ok. Bless them when they leave.
- Never live in the fear of not enough. You will kill your chances of getting anywhere.
- When someone's mad at you, nod your head and smile. People get tired of talking to someone that they think might be crazy. (I have not only seen Steve do this, I have done it myself, and it works wonderfully...).
- I actually remember a few more gems but some of them name names and Steve would kill me if I blogged them.
I couldn't have paid for this sort of coaching, and I got it because I would ask him questions. Lots of questions. Nearly ten years later, I still like to listen when he talks, and I still learn.
I don't know if any planter types read this blog anymore, but if you do, go read Gary's post, and when you get near someone who knows more than you do, be quiet and get something out of the encounter..
Steve, not sure if you read this often or not, but if you do, I'm still grateful these years later. You're a good and faithful friend. You've introduced me to some very strange things, but I love you dearly nonetheless. I'm praying for you friend - for you and your new, grand adventure. Thanks for challenging the rest of us.