In late January of this year, my wife Lindsey and I planted Hope Unlimited Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. It had been a dream in our heart since we were dating. Uprooting our lives and relocating was certainly the biggest step we had taken as a family, but peace followed every step and Knoxville has become home. (But, Roll Tide… some things never change).

I’m often asked if things are different from what I expected, now that we’ve planted and are actually “doing it.”

The short answer is no. Not at all.

I’ve always wanted to do this, and every day we wake up in the middle of our dream. There is loads of work involved to be sure, but if it’s your calling it doesn’t really feel like work.

Recently, I was also asked by a dear pastor friend what I had learned in my first six months or so after planting. Here was my initial response:

Number One: Pace.
No one wins if the leader sacrifices their body and soul in an effort to build the church or ministry. God is not more pleased the more we kill ourselves, and such “drive” is often fueled by a number of toxic beliefs. Whether it be insecurity through comparison, a twisted sense of nobility and honoring God, or feigned martyrdom, we have to keep the long game in mind.

Number Two: Community.
As good as a church service or worship experience might be, people are truly longing for community and relationships. Instead of Sunday being the cake and community being the icing, perhaps it should be the other way around. Sundays happen only two hours a week; community is there for the other 166.

Number Three: Thank You.
When you plant a church, everyone is a volunteer. And I mean EVERYONE. The only leverage a leader has is that people buy into them and their vision; there is no paycheck to be had. Therefore, it’s the leader’s job to become say thank you. Repeatedly. Always. Non-stop. Over and over again. And when you think you are overdoing it, you are probably just getting started.

Remember: they do not exist to build your church. Your church exists to build them.

Number Four: Story.
Don’t get trapped by trying to live out everyone else’s church planting story. How God did it for one will almost certainly NOT be how God does it for you. Be encouraged when you hear someone’s story, but don’t attempt to emulate it. Your church or ministry can only be figured out between you and God.

Number Five: Next Sunday.
One Sunday does not define the future of your church. If there is a technical glitch, a kid’s worker called in sick, or your sermon went down like bad meatloaf, there’s always next Sunday. Go home, Netflix the night away, and get up the next morning ready to study and seek God. There’s always next Sunday.

Number Six: Feed the People.
There is massive pressure on planters and pastors to be CEOs who can demonstrate leadership at the highest levels over multi-tiered organizational structures. I have incredible respect for those who can, and hope to grow in that area myself. However, we cannot lose the original mandate we have as pastors: feed the people. Give them God’s word in truth and grace. Pray, get the anointing, and say what God tells you to say.

Then, leave the results up to Him.