When working for the church feels like working for the enemy.

(Two months ago I announced our family’s church planting journey. Check out this post for specifics, I will be putting up a tab on all of this soon.  Many readers from twitter and facebook have said they would like to follow along on all of this. So, I will writing about church planting once a week, usually Saturdays, for the immediate future so you can see what it’s like to start a church (or restart one) from scratch. Some of these posts will be “this is how it’s going” and some of them will be more “this is how it feels.”)


In six weeks Kel will have his first day of work as the Lead pastor of the a church restart on Plainfield in downtown Grand Rapids. No, we don’t have a name for it yet, yes I will be writing about that, yes it’s driving me crazy.

Before we get started on all this, I need to fill you in on foundational secret of mine.

Sometimes, when I tell people we’re starting a church or that I’m a pastor’s wife I feel shame.  Yes, shame.

Because sometimes, it feels like I’m working for the enemy.

Which is terribly awful when you follow the church back to the beginning. It started as revolutionary good news, and it still is, it’s just buried under centuries of painful human error.

One of the more recent ones has been turning Jesus-following into a cardboard way of life, flat and plastered with easy answers and cheap clichés.

I have more than a few friends who have walked away from church since high school because they’ve been burned, hurt, clichéd and cast out.  And I ache for them, I hate what they went through.

It’s hard to tell them that we’re starting a church after they pour out their hearts about how one certain church has nearly ruined them for God. Sometimes I’m tempted to lie about Kel’s new job, because I get it and I don’t want to associate with the places that caused their pain.

The places that made something so deeply real and organic feel like a cheap, plastic chotchkie.

Because I know that clichés don’t help you when it all falls apart and eventually, it always, always does. If the church isn’t somewhere we can go with our broken anger, if it’s not a place that can welcome us with our worst mistakes… then I understand why they left.

I hear their sighs when I tell them we’re planting a church, I worry they’ll walk away from me because of what someone else did in their lives.

This is when I feel like I’m working for the enemy, when I want to grab their hands and assure them that OUR church won’t be like that.

It will be a place to come and be less alone in the struggle, to breathe a bit of heaven in the fray.

No, our church won’t be cliché.
our church will be a healing place
and it will never hurt people, I will personally make sure of it.
There will be space for your pain and people interested in meeting you exactly there.
It will be okay to come to church messy
It will be preferred that you come broken
It will okay to cry in worship, (I will be doing so nearly every Sunday per usual)

And if it’s not these things I will cry and I will break inside. I will make it my personal vendetta to shoo out everything that made you walk away from the church in the first place.

But this is flawed, Pollyanna thinking because although our church will be a lot of good things, it will have in it’s DNA the very flaw that has brought down every Church in history.

It will be full of human people, like me.

And something we do could bug you, something could feel like whatever caused you to leave the church before, a song, a verse, a word… and you’ll want to bolt for the doors.

All I can say is this: Will you find me? Can we talk?  I don’t want to retain you or add you to our numbers.  I just want to make sure that you feel heard and seen and even loved before you leave.

I can’t change everything that bothers you but I can grab a cup of coffee and give you my time and my ears. We can connect over the old rugged faith that has always been in there somewhere, under the stickers and bracelets and bumper stickers.

Even if you never come back I hope you leave feeling that we’re not the enemy. So many of us aren’t, but I get why you feel that way and for all the things the Church has done to you, I apologize.

On behalf of a God who has never been clichè for a second, I apologize and I want you to know that you have a standing invitation to sit in my pew and cry with me during worship.  Because yes, life is that hard and yes God is that beautiful and yes let’s still together for this hour and breathe together what truly is.


Enter your email address:Delivered by FeedBurner

Or there’s always twitter and Facebook too, you can join the conversation on all fronts.  That’s my favorite.

  • http://www.adventuresofbrian.com Brian

    Reading this, I’d definitely go to a church you have planted. A major issue I’ve had with serving in churches is if I served, I would have to force to fit myself into some existing hole, regardless of whether I really fit or not. Doing this repeatedly damaged me.

    Now I’d like to find a place that would accept me as I am… use my strengths and use my weaknesses.

    • http://www.leannepenny.com Leanne Penny

      I truly hope there is a place for you to feel at home just as you are Brian. I know it’s not easy, truly.

  • Stephanie B.

    If your church is full of humans, which I assume it will be, it will hurt someone at some point in time. You can’t make sure that doesn’t happen. It’s the unfortunate nature of sinful people. But, unlike what you said will happen in the post, don’t let that break you inside if it happens. That just means you get to have a conversation about grace and forgiveness and the Gospel in real life. And that’s what Church and doing life together are about.

    • http://www.leannepenny.com Leanne Penny

      Thank you Stephanie, I so needed to read that.

  • Lisa Adams

    I am in a church plant now. It sucks. I don’t feel heard, understood or useful. I want to leave really badly. My husband thinks we should stay. Despite your very best intentions you will hurt and disappoint people. I think that is a given. If I had my way, I would stop going to church. After attending my whole life. I am in my mid 40’s. I was hoping a church plant would be different, better. It’s not. I am done with church. Good luck!

    • http://www.leannepenny.com Leanne Penny

      Lisa, I am so sorry you’re having such a hard experience there. I know there are no words I could write here that would make it all better but I will say that I truly pray that hope breaks through for you.

  • http://rebootingworship.com/ Jamie Kocur

    My husband and I helped with a church plant. We left years ago, hurt and a little bruised. The hurt is slowly healing. A trusted pastor friend of ours told my husband that most people usually walk away within the first couple of years of a church plant because it doesn’t turn out like they expected. In our experience, that’s what happened.

    I’m still working through the resentments and trying to not have hard feelings toward the people there. It’s getting easier. The people there are beautiful people, but they’re still people. The church is doing good things, but my husband and I just didn’t feel at home there anymore.

    • http://www.leannepenny.com Leanne Penny

      I’m so sorry that s how it all turned out, it’s a special kind of pain when hopes and heart go unrealized. I’m glad you’re healing but I hate that it was a road you had to walk.

  • Mark Allman

    It does not matter where we are; be it work; be it school; be it family; be it church; people always get hurt. Sometimes the hurt is caused by misunderstanding; some by unmet expectations; some by unknown expectations; some because someone is in pain and lashes out. I think what helps in any of those situations is if the people involved know they can talk with the person who hurt them and that person is willing to work through whatever caused the hurt.

    I think if I were a leader of a church I would often offer up the willingness to sit down with anyone who is offended by anything that is said or happens in the church with the goal of working through that hurt. I would try to make sure people understood expectations all around. I would try to hold a forum every once in a while where people could express concerns that they would like addressed.

    No person or organization will be able to work out everything to suit everyone but if the effort is put forth and someone walks away, you and them can know it was not because they were ignored or not heard. It does not always work as it takes maturity on both sides of an issue to work through them.

    Knowing you guys I know your church will be a sanctuary for people who are hurting and who need love. I know that people will know you are not perfect but the way you guys love in your imperfection will draw them to you. I wish you well on it all.