When They Leave


When They Leave

When They Leave

By Rebecca Burtram

“A painful reality of the early days of church planting is that core team members leave. Many planters report discouragement resulting from the loss of good friends from their core team. Losing half of the planting launch team within the first years is common. Planting is hard work. Weary volunteers can end up searching out existing, stable churches to call home. The planter should be emotionally and spiritually prepared for relational losses.”
-Ed Stetzer in Christianity Today

The idea of being prepared to lose team members sounds great in theory, but it is incredibly hard in practice.

Everyone told us we would lose many of our launch team members, but it has still been difficult to see them go.

I found myself crying last night as I updated the contact lists for the next session of Life Groups. I had to delete one of our launch team members from the list because he lost a very short and hard battle with cancer.

We are almost a year old, and here is how we have had launch team members leave:

  • One couple broke up, and neither person got the church in the split.
  • One couple moved.
  • One member was hired away by another church.
  • One couple felt underappreciated and worn out.
  • One couple left when their daughter and son-in-law felt underappreciated and worn out.
  • One couple had committed to drive over an hour to help us each week for a year, and their year is coming to a close. 
  • One member died.

It is expected and normal to lose launch team members, and we have to process the losses in a healthy manner or we can become discouraged and weary.

I learned this after a brief season of being discouraged and weary.

I had to work through the process of loss in order to stay focused on the vision of what God called us to do. I had to be reminded that church plant is God’s not mine and cling to the faith that he would in fact grow his church.

I don’t think there is one comprehensive approach that will work for everyone, but I can provide some guiding principles that helped me process the loss of team members.

1. Gratitude

We can be bitter about losing those who have inevitably become close to us as we pursued a shared vision, or we can be grateful.

As we have spoken with many planters during training, in the launch phase, and post-launch, we have repeatedly heard launch teams referred to as scaffolding. The launch team is there to build the church, but scaffolding comes down after it has served its purpose.

This mindset is particularly helpful in maintaining a perspective of gratitude. When you view a launch team member’s departure as a completion of the task she came to do, it is easy to simply thank her for her service.

No matter how or why a member leaves, you can choose to be thankful for what was gained by your time together rather than what is being lost.

2. Grief

Although you are grateful for all your launch team members have contributed, it is 100% normal to feel sorrow at the loss.

As I mentioned earlier, there are many reasons for a team member to leave, and each of them can cause you to mourn. When you work alongside people, share a common goal, and pour your time and energy into them, it is painful to separate.

It is important to allow yourself time to feel the loss. We are often quick to try to rationalize the loss and move on. However, we must allow ourselves to process our emotions rather than pretend they do not exist.

3. Grace

Not all team members leave well. Some people will place blame or share everything they think you should have done to create a church they could have stayed at.

To maintain your own health, you will need grace for yourself and grace for the individual leaving.

There is a distinct possibility that the complaints have some validity in them. As a young church, there are going to be many things you simply can’t do yet. You are also going to make mistakes. You must own that and move on. If you strive to always honor God by giving him your best, you have done all you can at the moment. That won’t always be enough for everyone, but it is enough for God.

Take an honest look at the criticism and use sound judgement to determine what needs to change, what you can change, and what will have to be okay for now.

There are also those who will present reasons you have failed them that are just wrong. You know they are wrong, but it hurts to be accused and blamed. This can cause you to become angry with the individual leaving. We have to extend grace to these people as they go. We hurt ourselves when we hold on to offenses, even those that are justified.

It took me a few days of holding on and internal struggle before I was able to accept that it isn’t my job to prove the person in the wrong was in fact wrong. I wanted to call or email and explain her error. However, when I finished grieving and focused on gratitude, I was ready to extend grace. I sent an email thanking the couple for their service and released them with my blessing and a genuine desire to see God’s best in their lives.

I don’t want to lose any more team members, and I highly doubt losing people will ever become easy. However, I am determined to practice the principles of gratitude, grief, and grace.

God is in control, and he brings the people we need when we need them. We must learn to trust him and remain in the peace that comes from following the one who ordered the stars.

Jonathan and Rebecca Burtram planted Redemption Church Charlottesville on Easter of 2016. Rebecca is the author of Our Broken Hallelujahs and blogs about grace and imperfection at rebeccaburtram.com. She is passionate about helping others know that they are not alone in their struggles or their triumphs. If you have a church planting story to share with other CMN women, contact her at rebecca@redemptioncc.com


Front Row Seats for the Weary


Front Row Seats for the Weary

Front Row Seats for the Weary

by Rebecca Burtram


While visiting my brother’s church plant, which is approaching its three-year anniversary, I sat in the front row and witnessed all the functions of a church balled up into one morning.

  • There were five baptisms, one of which was a psychic who closed her business when she decided to follow Jesus.
  • Several people raised their hands to make a commitment to Christ and followed up at the “Fresh Start” response table.
  • The congregation of somewhere between 200 and 250 people in an economically-depressed city pledged to give $226,715 to move their church community into its own space to do ministry.

Although this was all incredibly beautiful, the moment that I think really got me was the almost impromptu wedding ceremony that occurred right before the crew was able to finish packing up the church’s supplies (the couple had sent my brother a message on Facebook earlier in the week).

As a young man in construction boots, dress pants, a white button down dress shirt, and a flannel stood beside my brother and waited for his bride, Will announced to those in the room that he was about to perform a wedding ceremony and those who were left were welcome to witness the event or to give the room to the couple.

We took seats in the chairs that had not been packed up yet and watched as a young woman entered with a beautiful gown, tattoos, a pony tail, smiles, and tears.

Everyone quickly whipped out phones and began taking pictures and video. The man in charge of media at the church took out his camera and began taking professional quality photos.

We were all captured by the moment.

My brother Will performed a ceremony that was eloquently simple and sweet. The bride cried, the groom looked into her eyes, and they embraced for a passionate kiss as one of the members of the worship band strummed his guitar.

Every couple deserves a wedding gift. I introduced myself and wished them well, handing them the money I had just received for speaking at an event for the church on Friday night. The bride hugged me and wept while I prayed a blessing over their marriage.

This is just another day in the church planting world.

This brief visit to my brother’s church rekindled something in me.

I LOVE our church of almost 100 people, but we are almost nine months old… and the honeymoon has ended. Just in the last month we have experienced a death of one of our key members, a couple leaving due to offense, and the vehicle we used to pull the trailer failing on a Sunday morning (leading to a 100% equipment free Sunday service).

Our growth has been relatively slow, and people might be losing sight of the vision because we have started to hear from one plugged-in couple about how burnt out they are feeling.

I realized that while I get to hear all the stories and witness the changed lives, not all our members have had that privilege. They don’t see the hands raised during the heads-bowed, eyes-closed moments. They don’t hear the phone calls or read the messages about life-altering moments.

It is time for baptisms, testimonies, and impromptu weddings. Okay, maybe we can’t just do a wedding, but we can celebrate all that God is doing in and through His church.

If you, too, are feeling the weight and the drain of the sometimes-chaos of church planting as trailers break down, people get weary, or tithes are below the cost of rent, remember the honor and the joy of watching someone come up from the water to publicly declare the transformation of his life.

Remember the individual who came to tell you how God is working on her life to break free from addiction.

Remember that your people gather each week to create a space for love to be declared.

This is church planting. And you get to be in the front row watching God do the impossible.

Rebecca Burtram and her husband, Jonathan, are the planting pastors at Redemption Church in Charlottesville, VA. Rebecca graduated with top honors from Evangel University with a BA in Spanish Education and English. She also holds an English MA from the State University of New York at Cortland.

She enjoys ministering in small groups, at women’s events, and for full congregations. Her dream is to make writing and speaking her full time career. In the meantime, she teaches English at Albemarle High School, blogs at rebeccaburtram.com, and writes an occasional post for tworiversblog.com.

Jonathan and Rebecca have been married for 13 years, and they are the parents of three children, ages 13, 11, and 9.


Highly Favored... and Greatly Troubled


Highly Favored... and Greatly Troubled

Highly Favored… and Greatly Troubled

by Catie Naranjo

“Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you,” – Luke 1:28

This was the message Gabriel brought to Mary, the young woman God chose to carry His son.

We all desire that to be spoken over us. We long to walk in the sweet favor of the Lord, and we are quick to assume that we’re not highly favored simply because of outside circumstances.

Maybe we think, “Surely, God would never send an angel to speak favor over my life. Our finances are scarce. The church is facing real obstacles. Our children are acting out…”  And the list can go on – Oh, can it go on!

But note Luke 1:29 – immediately after Gabriel calls Mary “highly favored” and promises that the Lord is with her, it says that, “Mary was greatly troubled” and afraid.

Is it possible to be highly favored and greatly troubled at the same time? Mary certainly was, and, as church planters, we often are as well.

Sure, there are times we can walk outside of God’s favor. However, when we are living life out of obedience and love toward God, He can’t help but smile down upon his children. We don’t have to be perfect – thank God! - but Psalm 66:2 reminds us that God looks on those who are humble and contrite in heart. Just like we should never confuse success with God’s approval, we shouldn’t assume our trouble is the absence of God’s favor.

Perhaps you’re like me and still processing this concept. That’s okay! Thankfully, Luke 1 goes on:

“How will this be since I am a virgin?” Mary asks.

We all have reasons we can point to as to why it should be impossible to fulfill God’s call in our lives and churches. But the answer the angel gives is the absolute best!

“The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”

Highly favored woman of God, you will get through this troubling and fearful time! And the way you will do it is through being in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Get close and cling to Him. Get so close that you are overshadowed by Him. That is where the miracles happen!

Because, as Gabriel reminds Mary before he exits the building, “No word from God will ever fail.”

May that promise be a gift to you this Christmas. His Word is powerful and more than enough to support His call on your life.

As you are fighting and contending for your community and at the same time ministering to your family and husband, know that you are highly favored and that God is with you.  Rest assured that sometimes being greatly troubled is a perfectly normal part of that calling. Stay in His shadow and His Word will NEVER fail to sustain you.

Merry Christmas, highly favored women of God!

Catie Naranjo and her husband, Jeremy, planted Summit Church in Anthem, AZ in 2015. They have two amazing kids, a grumpy cat, and are honored to be called by God to build His church. 


Growing in Faith: Part 2


Growing in Faith: Part 2

Growing in Faith: Part 2

by Tara Petrali

Last week I shared about the ways that God was challenging my husband, our church, and I to pursue more. We felt led to sell our comfortable, spacious home and move into the city we had planted in, move our plant to a new location, and give one month’s salary back to the church.

Shortly after the first of July, when we gave our salary check back to the church, we accepted a cash offer on our house. We had one month to get out, and we were only going to be home for 11 of those days. Somehow, we got everything packed in time, but we still had no clue where we were going next.

We had previously decided to rent for the next year, but weren't having any luck at finding the right house at the right price. Finally, two days before we closed on our house, we found a rental home right in Plymouth. Because we did all the work in the basement, we had earned enough equity to help us afford to rent in the community where we planted. God blessed us and provided more than we had imagined.

After explaining to the church members that we felt like God was moving us away from the theater, and a couple months of praying and seeking his direction, God led us to a school a couple miles away.

We had zero fall out from the transition, we have grown stronger in the two months of being there than we would have in a year at the theater, and we were able to do ministry better in the new space. Once again, God provided.

God brought us through a summer of testing. He wanted to know what our limit was. What would we give up for him? It was so exciting to be on a journey of doing more for God so that God could prepare to do more for us. 

Although we often feel worried, stressed, anxious, etc., knowing that God has spoken and given us peace helps us to have faith and trust him through it all. This journey has become thrilling and inspiring.

I find myself asking God, “What's next? What else can I give up? What else can we walk through together?” Even when it's not easy, the peace that surpasses all understanding is so alluring.

As I sit here writing this, God has brought us to another faith journey. He is asking us to essentially walk away from the very thing He led us to start three years ago. But not really.

God has provided an opportunity for us as a three year old church plant to strategically partner with an Assemblies of God church three miles away. We would essentially marry the churches, we would take over leadership of New Life Community and dissolve the church we have worked so hard to build over the last three years.

After a lot of prayer and fasting, God has given us so much peace and confirmation that this is His will. It's not about the church we started. It was never our church anyway. It's God’s church.

If creating this strategic partnership with New Life will help build and strengthen and grow God’s church, then count us in!  We don't care what the statistics say or what statistics we will become, we care about having faith to follow God when he asks us to do what we think is absolutely crazy! 

Listening to the wrong voices when God is the one leading you can be detrimental. "Church mergers don't work." "You can't give up on your church plant." "What if instead of doing that you (fill in the blank)?"

While getting wise counsel and advice is great, you have to be discerning to know what's from God and what's not.

Don't sell yourself short of what God wants to do because of fear. (Read Psalm 86:11-13).

So, while this next adventure is just about to start, I'm already looking forward to the what will come after this.

I want to challenge you with this one last thing:

Matthew 25:29-32
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Get out of the boat.

God asks us to get out of the boat and come to Him. But often we are too comfortable. We weigh the risks and we try to use human logic and it just doesn't make sense. But we have to have FAITH and step out of the boat.

Jesus immediately reached out.

When you take the leap of faith Jesus will be there to catch you. He won't let you fall.

What is your boat? What is your comfort zone?  What are you holding on to that God is asking you to let go of?

I pray that you will be encouraged to have faith to do more, give more, risk more and dream more!

Tara Petrali is mom to three fun and active young boys. Her and her husband have been married for almost 10 years and in ministry for even longer. They planted Relevant Church in Plymouth, MN in 2013. In her spare time you might find Tara taking a refreshing nap, reading, or shopping. But let's be honest, with three young boys, a church plant and a busy schedule, "spare time" is very limited!


Growing in Faith: Part 1


Growing in Faith: Part 1

Growing in Faith: Part 1

by Tara Petrali

We have all heard the stories and testimonies of people who had incredible faith and followed God’s leading to see incredible things.

Just open your Bible to Hebrews 11, "the hall of faith." In this chapter, you will read about heroic men and women whose stories stand out to encourage and challenge our faith. The stories of Abraham, Isaac, Sarah, Noah, Moses and others are written and recorded to encourage us to have faith and trust God.

But what happens when God challenges you personally? What happens when you are comfortable in life and ministry and suddenly God throws you a curve ball and asks you to do something you think is totally crazy?!

My husband and I (and our church) have been on an incredible journey with the Lord over these last six months. It all started from a conversation my husband had with a mentor about church, life, and desiring more. After that conversation, God began challenging us.

If we wanted more, it was going to require more- more faith, more action, more obedience, more trust, more sacrifice, more passion and so much more!

We started Relevant Church in September of 2013. God had spoken very clearly to us about the decision to start it in Plymouth, MN, and we were honored to be doing His will. We moved to Plymouth in July, started having meetings right away and officially launched in September with 30 people. God has grown His church to around 100 faithful, strong members who love the lord and the local church.

In July 2014, we purchased a house 25 minutes from Plymouth (because we can't afford to live in Plymouth). We bought it with an unfinished basement and finally finished the basement off, giving us more than enough space for our growing family.

It was March of 2016 when we came to a place of wanting more from God. We wanted to do ministry in a different way than we were able to do in our current situation. God spoke clearly to both of us that if we wanted more, we needed to give more.

And so our journey began...

First it was our home. We felt like God told us to sell our home and get back into Plymouth. Now, this was tough for me. I loved our home!  I spent many hours in the basement framing walls, running electric wires, sheet rocking, painting, adding a beautiful (bargain price) gas fireplace with a thermostat remote.  It was the perfect amount of space for our three wild boys in a great community with the best neighbors!

But God told us to sell it. So, we met with our realtor and put it on the market trusting God for the next step.

At the same time, God told us we needed to change locations of the church. Remember, we are a church plant. So we are portable. We were meeting at a movie theater. They had just recently upgraded to luxury leather recliners, we had a really wonderful working relationship with the owner and the managers, and it had always worked well for us.

But God said it was time to go. So, we began the hunt for a new location.

As well as moving both our own family home and our church home, God told us we needed to lead the church in giving sacrificially. We felt like God told us to give our entire month salary back to the church in July (at the same time he's asking us to move to a community that we can't afford). We agreed that we would do it.

In this time of transition and following God on this journey that just looked crazy to our friends and family who are unbelievers, God gave me a verse that I have held close to my heart.

"Teach me your ways, O LORD, that I may live according to your truth! Grant me purity of heart, so that I may honor you" (Psalms 86:11-13).

Lord, show me your ways.  Show me the things you want me to see and do. I know that you have my best interest at heart. You desire nothing but the best for me. So show me what to do. In all of these situations, Lord give me peace and wisdom to follow you.

Lord, help me to truly rely on you. Life can become so easy, so comfortable. I ask that you would help me to have to rely on you and grow to trust you. You are my faithful father. You love me. You will provide. You won't leave me and my family homeless. You are faithful to provide for us.

Lord, help me to go through this season in peace knowing that you are speaking. Help me to be completely surrendered to you. I pray that my heart would be to follow you and not divided amongst comfort and possessions and security of a home. Help me to keep my heart set on you and you alone.

Lord, so often we talk about the fear of the Lord and what that means. But in this moment, I have have a much different fear. I fear not what would happen if we obey you and sell our house, move the church and give you back your money. What I fear is what will happen if we don't. Will we grow discontent. Will you take it all away from us?  What will we miss out on if we don't obey you now.

In these moments of prayer and fasting, God really gave Justin and me clarity and peace that surpasses all understanding. When we told our neighbors we were selling our house, they asked where we were going. We said, "We don't know, but God has a plan and we are excited to see what it is!"  We had no clue what we were going to do after we sold our house. We still couldn't afford to live in Plymouth, but God had a plan.

Tara Petrali is mom to three fun and active young boys. Her and her husband have been married for almost 10 years and in ministry for even longer. They planted Relevant Church in Plymouth, MN in 2013. In her spare time you might find Tara taking a refreshing nap, reading, or shopping. But let's be honest, with three young boys, a church plant and a busy schedule, "spare time" is very limited!






by Rachel Bowman

I'm walking around, going to work, and fixing my kids breakfast all with this silent monster sitting heavy on my back. It is weighing me down, keeping me quiet, and I feel like I am dragging my feet. It feels heavy. It feels sad. It feels like heartache for the future I am so uncertain of. Heavy.

You see, God has been whispering into my husband and I's ears. He wants us to start a new church in a growing town nearby with only a few churches. There are so many souls dying and crying out who don't know they are just looking for the fulfilling love of Jesus.

I have deeply experienced this love and want to share with every ear who will hear. I want to become part of an authentic community who grows and lives and loves together. I am certain this is the path God has shown me to take.

Starting this new venture means starting from scratch. It means sacrifice and difficulty, long nights and overflowing schedules while still working our outside jobs and caring for our four small kids.

The self-doubt is heavy.
The worry is heavy.
The fear of the future is heavy.
Failure is a possibility and it is heavy.
Heavy, heavy, heavy.

Does anyone like us enough to go to this church God has called us to start? Will anyone come? Will anyone care? Will we make any difference? Will Jesus meet us there? Will we just spin our wheels? Will we go broke? Will we have to find new jobs?

Will we fail?

The good news is this is not about me; it is about Jesus.

If God called me, as unqualified as I feel, He will fulfill His work through me if I let Him. He has written my story of hope, given me the tools, and proven to me He is faithful.  He has been asking me over and over again to give Him this heavy monster I have been carrying around for months.  

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28).

He has been asking and asking to lighten my load. I start to hand it over; then,  I just end up feeding this heavy monster more anxiety and self doubt. You see, a yoke is a wooden bar placed over the neck of a pair of animals so they can work together as one, perhaps plowing a field. Jesus and I, operating together, side by side.

I have realized I am holding Jesus back from operating fully in me because I will not give up my heavy load. I am dragging myself down. If I give Him my heavy yoke, take His yoke, and learn by watching Him, we can operate together for His glory. He can work through me fully, without the heavy burdens weighing me down.

When my yoke feels heavy on this journey, Lord remind me to just give it to you. Remind me you don't want me to carry this alone. Even though I am strong and smart and able, I cannot fully be who you created me to be without you by my side, guiding me and carrying my burdens for me. Your yoke is easy and your burden is light. Thank you Lord for delivering me from myself.

I don't have to walk around feeling heavy one more day and neither do you.   

Honestly with love,

Rachel Bowman

Rachel Bowman is a mom to four in four years, pastor's wife, church planter, and writer of words. She enjoys a good cup of coffee, a Lego free floor, and encouraging women where they are.  Her and her husband, Paul, are launching Anchor Church in April 2017.

She graduated from Eastern University and is working on becoming a credentialed minister.  Come for a visit at waitingforbedtime.com after you have survived your kids’ bedtime routine. Honesty and sweatpants required.