When I began dreaming of planting a church, I imagined building something awesome out of nothing. Then my wife and I attended an ARC Launch Intensive, and I started to believe that dream was possible. The level of excellence and attention to detail at the event was breathtaking. Each session began with a countdown clock, and the program stayed perfectly on schedule. The staff had thoughtfully provided water for everyone, and the labels on each water bottle faced exactly the same direction. I was listening to every word the presenters shared with a little drool hanging off my lip.
Our church launch was a far cry from what we experienced that weekend in Birmingham. I’m proud of what we accomplished, but we had a long way to go. Every week we focused on making the right tweaks and moving closer to our vision.
Over time, our Sunday experiences improved and our church began to grow. Each weekend we were becoming a little more like that church in my dreams. But as we progressed, something else was happening: I started showing up to our Sunday gatherings wound up emotionally.
Every week had to be my very best preaching. Every worship set had to be flawless. Every greeter had to stand in the perfect place, with the perfect smile. There was no room for “less than the best” because people’s eternities hung in the balance.
Despite our best efforts, Sunday almost never went off without a hitch. My leaders could tell I was bothered. And before I knew it, the low-grade tension in me was spreading to my leaders and the rest of the Dream Team.
We were doing the work, but the joy of serving was waning. I noticed that our team seemed more concerned with pleasing me than serving God.
Something had to change. As I sought to unwind the tension, I learned the following.
Recognize the mixed motives. Yes, my work is for the Lord and the lost, but it’s easy to assume my heart is in the right place. The truth is, there’s something else beneath the surface, another reason I want our services to be excellent: my desire to feel successful and be respected. Sure, I want to reach people. But I also don’t want to look bad. I needed to identify the mixture in my heart and allow God to search me and know me.
Rest in the sovereignty of God. I had to realize that Jesus is the Savior, not me. He’s building His church. And unless the Lord builds the house, I’m laboring in vain. While I absolutely have a part to play as a pastor, Jesus is the head of His church. He wants to win the lost and build His church more than I do.
At the end of the day, it’s not my efforts, brilliance, or charm that cause anything good. It’s a result of God’s grace by God’s Spirit.
Return to modeling joy and celebration. I’m bound and determined to show up on Sundays (and every day) full of joy and ready to celebrate the victory that Jesus has won. I’ve started getting up earlier on Sundays to ensure I spend additional time preparing my heart before Him so I can set a culture of joy with my smile, my worship, and my conversations. As lead pastor, I’m the chief culture creator on the team. It’s up to me to live what I want to see in our church.
Relax into a marathon pace. I plan on being in ministry for decades to come. My wife and I are leading with a focus on the next generation, believing that the church we launched will thrive long after we are done leading it.
If we lead at a sprinter’s pace, we’ll never last for the long haul. The success of our ministry doesn’t rise and fall on this Sunday; there’s another one coming. And the longer I’m in ministry, the more I realize that most people like to see our humanity and mistakes. They may be inspired by our strengths, but they identify and connect with our weaknesses.
By managing this tension, I’m learning to better trust that the Lord will do His part of ministry while taking joy in the part He allows me to play. He hasn’t designed me to pastor from a place of tension or anxiety. We’re still committed to doing our best work and constantly getting better, but we no longer attempt to minister in our own strength. I’m now enjoying our gatherings in a fresh way, and I’m seeing a confidence and spirit of joy growing within our team, too.
Danny and Jamie Schulz are the lead pastors of Sun City Church in Spokane Valley, Washington. They dreamed to plant a church for more than a decade before their previous church sent them to Spokane in 2015 to launch Sun City (ARC church plant number 466). Since then, it’s been a wild ride of building teams and growing the church into a flourishing community in the heart of Spokane Valley. To learn more, visit suncitychurch.com.