CMN Women: Walking a Tightrope

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Walking A Tightrope

By Lisa Ulmer
 

Balance – it’s what we all want in our lives. Just the right amount of work, family, church, and rest. But how can you be fully present in all those areas when you’re a church planter? Church is your work and your baby, and can honestly steal your rest.

Truthfully, I don’t have it all figured out yet, and I’m not going to pretend. However, no one understands the pressures of church planting like another church planter. Maybe my experience will help you find your balance.


Delegate

When we moved to Denver three years ago to start a church, it was just my husband, me, and our two young daughters. In those early stages, there are just certain things that won’t get done unless you do them.

I vividly remember standing in the street with my two small children, trying to hold a parallel parking spot with my body while my husband was driving around to back our church’s donut trailer into the spot for an outreach that night. My children have had more practice than most at packing up projector screens and rolling up quarter-inch cables.

Just when that season of life was getting to be too much for us to handle, God supplied faithful volunteers to join us in service and mission.

We’ve had to learn to delegate things to others, even if they won’t do them with the same excellence as we would. They say when someone can perform your job at 70% it’s time to delegate that job fully to them. Boy, that can be hard. But perfection isn’t worth burning your family out in the process.


Say No

Another part of finding balance in our lives as church planters has been learning to say no. Again, this was challenging for us because we want to say yes to everybody and everything. That’s how we started our church. We said yes to every invitation into someone’s life and building relationships wherever we could.

Now that we’ve been at this church planting thing for a few years, we have made it a priority to protect our weekly family Sabbath. Saturdays are reserved for family, not work. So don’t be alarmed if we RSVP "No" to that birthday party or cookout. We’ll be fully invested in your life the other six days of the week.


Create Space

Finding balance between work, family, and church isn’t just about physical space and time throughout your week. A big part of balance is the emotional and mental headspace that is occupied by others, namely, those people in your congregation or ministry.

How can we be fully present with our loved ones when our minds are mulling over the latest drama in our church? One of the biggest ways we have to fight for balance is by letting go of the unrealistic expectations of others.

Repeat after me: "I am responsible to people, but I am not responsible for people. I have certain obligations to people as the pastor’s wife to counsel, pray for, and lead them well. However, I am not responsible for their situations or their reactions if they choose to ignore godly wisdom or walk away from accountability."

We are called to pastor our people with grace and truth, but we are not called to carry the anxiety or disappointment of not meeting people’s expectations.

As we strive to find balance while starting a church, let’s remember that it isn’t our church. It’s His. And He will build it.

“Unless the Lord builds the house,
    the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
    the guards stand watch in vain.
In vain you rise early
    and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
    for he grants sleep to those he loves.”
Psalm 127:1-2


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Lisa Ulmer and her husband, Preston, pastor Discover Church in the Highlands, located in Denver, CO. They moved to Denver in 2015 as a part of Urban Islands Project, and started holding Doubter’s Clubs, a dialogue-based meeting led by a Christian and an atheist. They launched the church in 2016, and Lisa leads worship and helps with administrative duties. She loves reading about relationships, being outdoors, and spending time with her husband and two amazing daughters, Piper and Brennan.

CMN Women: Just Plant a Church

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Just Plant a Church

by Rachel Bowman
 

“Go ahead, walk right in. The door looks closed but you only need to turn the knob. All the unopened doors, the disappointment, the heaviness in the years of waiting – it wasn’t for naught. This is what I had planned all along.” –God

I responded with doubt and fear. 

“Start a church from nothing?
Where I know no one?
When I have no money?
When I have no idea what I am doing?
When I have four kids under four?
When we both have day jobs?
When I feel completely unqualified?
No, no I can’t do that – it’s too big.”

It was unmistakable and unshakable in our spirit. We both knew God was shining a bright light on the path to plant a church.

So we walked.

Slowly tiptoeing, shaking, arms extended in the bitter darkness searching for direction and confirmation to hold onto.

There were no burning bushes, no audible words.

Just doors opening when we spoke in faith and asked God to open them.
Just ‘yes’ when we asked for support from our sending church.
Just people showing up in our lives from nowhere who lived in Milford.
Just matching funds and people offering generously.
Just equipping classes offered to us that poured into us.
Just four elated kids who can’t wait to to lay the foundation for a new community.
Just Jesus answering prayer after prayer each time we took a tiny step in the direction of this dream He had dreamt for Milford. 
Just Jesus.

Exactly, precisely, absolutely, completely, totally, entirely, perfectly, wholly Jesus.
Jesus using us when we were unsure, but said yes anyway.
Just what we needed.
Just what Milford needed.

You see, each step felt tiny, like we were ‘just’ moving inch by inch. We were, but now we see it wasn’t ‘just’ anything. It was a move of God. 

He gently guided us. We felt blindfolded, yet He lovingly revealed His dream in a garage with 16 people willing to join the battle. He showed up that night and filled us with hope.

One year has passed and I still get lonely, exhausted to the bone, doubtful and full of fear that it will all fall apart at any moment. That’s when Jesus steps in and reminds me to just be faithful today. He has doubled, tripled and now multiplied many times over increased our team since day one. 

You can stand. You can go. You are not ‘just’ doing small things. It doesn’t always make sense. Every fear will be ruined if you are faithful. Be free, walk in faith and just go plant a church.

“I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert " (Isaiah 43:19).


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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, launched Anchor Church in 2017. She graduated from Eastern University and is working on becoming a credentialed minister.

CMN Women: Success is Measured in Obedience

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Success is Measured in Obedience

by Rebecca Burtram
 

In low moments, I have cried out to God in frustration and discouragement, asking why our plant has not seen the rate of growth we expected. We have implemented all the recommendations and best practices, and we have genuinely tried to hear from God and follow his leading.

All the feedback we have received has been great. The preaching is relevant, biblical, and engaging. The children’s area is fun, safe, and clean. The kids are learning how to build solid relationships with Christ. Guests feel welcome, the worship team sounds amazing, the branding is sleek, and the mailers being sent follow the suggested templates. We consistently pray and seek God’s direction and guidance. Yet we have not seen much growth.

Why, God?! Why? Why isn’t our plant thriving?

Recently, I was walking with my mom through her gardens. In one garden, her peony bush was in full bloom. The flowers were huge and vibrant. As we walked across the property, we came to another bush that was not blooming. I’m not a gardener myself, but I was fairly certain that I was looking at another peony bush.

“Isn’t this a peony bush? Why is the one in the other garden full of gorgeous flowers while this one is just budding?”

“The one that is blooming is in full sunlight, and this one is often in the shade. It will bloom eventually.”

The same woman planted both bushes, the plants were in the same soil, and she used the same techniques and strategies to promote growth, yet the results were different.

The conversation with my mother in her garden was bizarrely comforting. I immediately thought of our church. I was reminded of the stories of pastors who planted more than once and struggled in one location but thrived in another.  

The same pastors planted the churches, they used the same techniques and strategies to promote growth, yet the results were different.

It is so easy to see low or slow growing numbers as a failure. However, that isn’t the paradigm in which God works. God has not called us to measure our worth based on what we can do. He has simply called us to be His. The work we do is an outpouring of our relationship with Christ. In John 21:15-19, Jesus repeatedly asks Peter if he loves him and instructs him to “feed my sheep.” He also ends the conversation with, “follow me.”

When we plant our churches, we do it as an act of obedience. We are demonstrating our love, not trying to earn His. He has already called us his own, and the size of our churches is not the measure of our success. Jesus said, “follow me,” and this command may lead us to do things that look like failure to some.

In his article “Learning to Fail,” Robert Elkin points out that Jesus, in his act of ultimate obedience to God, was viewed as a failure at the moment of his crucifixion:

The cross was a failure. Jesus was a failure in the eyes of EVERY SINGLE PERSON in his society. As he hung on the cross, literally no one thought he was a success. Even after he resurrected from the dead, the cross was still considered “foolishness” whether measured by religion (Jews) or philosophy (Greeks). Every single educated person in the first century thought the cross made no sense. Yet the cross is our salvation. And the salvation of the world. And the singular picture of Divine Love.

Society believed Jesus was a failure because they had expectations of a triumphant uprising, but that isn’t what he was called to do. He was called to be obedient, even to the point of death. It is in looking back that we are able to see the results of what Jesus did. What seemed like a failure to everyone around was a turning point for all of history. We do not know all of God’s plans or the purpose for all he asks of us.

Don’t stress if your plant isn’t blooming the way you thought it would. If you are faithfully pursuing God’s call to be his and obediently following his leading above all else, you are succeeding- no matter what the world may say.


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Rebecca Burtram and her husband, Jonathan, 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

CMN Women: Just Then

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Just Then

by Lacey Hartman
 

And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.” Naomi said to her, “Go ahead, my daughter.” So she went out, entered the field and began to glean behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelek. JUST THEN Boaz arrived… (Ruth 2:2-4, NIV).

Don’t you love the anticipation of “just then” moments when you see God move, provide, inspire, and redeem? I love hearing those stories, but when I am waiting on God to bring a “just then” moment in my life, I can begin to feel like God has run out of those for me. 

A mantra used not only by realtors, but church plant trainers for years is “Location, Location, Location”! One of our top ten tasks, on our very long, ever growing launch to-do list was to secure a location.

Dozens of “no”s, multiple well-meaning suggestions from people who really had no idea what we were trying to accomplish, countless circles of driving and praying around possible locations, and months of waiting for a “just then” moment was exhausting and exciting.

We had two potential options- The Boys and Girls Club and our local movie theater. The movie theater was asking too much, but the Boys and Girls Club had never allowed someone to rent their facility.

I don’t know how God deals with you, but it seems like, in our journey, He likes us to wait until what we feel is the absolute last second!

Wouldn’t you know it, “just then” happened the day before we had to order our portable church equipment in order to receive it in time for our launch day. The Club said “yes” to us!

We launched at the Club that fall. We had a year contract. Six months in we started re-negotiating an extension and the Club said “no.” We looked for the next six months and literally came up empty-handed. We asked again for an extension, and “just then” they extended our contract for six more months.

Again, our lease was coming to a close. Our only other option in town was back at the local movie theater, but it was being bought out by AMC and no one would return our calls or emails. We had two Sunday’s left at the Club with nowhere to go.

Troy and I were at our office, you know, a local coffee shop, talking about next steps. Troy said, “We don’t have a plan B. God hasn’t released us from this assignment, there are still 65% of our community unclaimed to faith, so we will do what we know to do and God will do what only He can.” 

We asked the club to extend our contract AGAIN as we waited for the theater to finalize the buy-out. “Just then” the club miraculously said yes with an addendum for NO further extensions!

Sunday January 8, 2017 in the middle of the afternoon we received an email from AMC saying they have finalized the buy-out and would be willing to lease with us!

A few months ago, we signed an extended lease with our theater through 2019. We were so excited to not have to move and be somewhat stable going into our 3rd year and thought this extended lease was another “just then” moment. However, a week or so later we get a voicemail from AMC saying they were closing our theater! Faith rose in our hearts and we knew God had a “just then” piece of our story around the corner. 

As we continue to wait for God to provide our next “just then” moment, I am reminded of Boaz and Ruth.

Boaz tells Ruth:

“I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge” (Ruth 2:11-12).

Boaz reminds us of our Heavenly Father. In the midst of our full and often chaotic lives of faith, our God is watching. Each wound, every financial sacrifice, the hidden tears, all the wins and every time you let your faith overwhelm fear, He sees you. Our God is the great redeemer!

As Ruth was loyal, faithful, and kind in her waiting, may we also be loyal, faithful, and kind as God unfolds “just then” moments to impact far more than our own personal lives, but eternity!


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Lacey Hartman serves alongside her husband, Troy, at Rock Hills Church in Manhattan, KS. She has been a pastor’s wife and leader for 11 years.

Lacey is passionate about empowering others to take next steps. Troy and Lacey have two vibrant daughters, Jovi and Jade. When Lacey isn’t reminding her daughter’s to stop jumping on the couches, she enjoys reading, movies, and pedicures (who doesn’t?!)!

Connect with Lacey on social media, or email lacey@myrockhillschurch.com

CMN Women: Leap of Faith

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Leap of Faith

By Christan Causey
 

Through this entire church planting process, there have been these little moments, here and there, that can only be described as God moments – God-intended, God-appointed, and God-planned moments. They are amazing; they bring peace and a soft reminder that whispers, "I am faithful, I am with you.”

For example, in a crazy, completely uncharacteristic way I threw our house out there on Zillow. Just to see, and God showed up in a big way.

I felt God had led me to take a leap of faith without having it all ready. I mean we had nothing ready. There was no decluttering or cleaning done. Our house wasn't nicely staged. I didn't even have pictures to put up. I posted it,  “For Sale By Owner,” and we started getting contacted 24 hours later.

If you know me, you know I am a realist. When I say realist, sometimes I mean fatalist. I don't mean to be that way. It's my temperament, it's my life experiences, or it's my thorn in the flesh. Either way, I deeply struggle with hope. I have faith, but I tend to qualify it or hold it loosely. I trust God, but I also know he allows difficulty. That sort of thing. It's a real struggle I am always working on.

This time, my faith was built. There had been too many things that just seemed to be put together by God himself. I was hopeful that God would work miraculously through our house situation. In fact, it had been a prayer of mine since last year, and I truly felt He was going to respond.

Ten days went by, and we had one showing pan out – it was the very first contact we had. They had positive feedback, but gave us nothing else. That was a Tuesday. My hope began waning by Friday, and by Saturday, I was frustrated. That's putting it lightly.

There were other circumstances contributing to my angst, but my main stress that morning was the house. I had really been hopeful, but I had started to feel that, like many times before, God was doing something different than what I had thought or prayed for. Now, I know he is sovereign. He has a plan that is trustworthy, and he is always looking out for our best interest. I get it. But I was disappointed, and, well, I am a hot mess that God regularly has to deal with. Whatever.

I was in the middle of crying out to God – literally crying. I was angry at the world, and I felt like everything was falling apart (only a slight exaggeration). I was working out my anger and frustration and trying to process this disappointment to get to the other side and trust God no matter what.

Then I got an email notification, and I looked at it in order to distract myself from my misery.

It was the realtor sending a cash offer from his buyer. (In the end, it became a bidding war between two cash buyers).

This. Was. Miraculous.

I have known God my entire life. I have followed Christ passionately since first I understood anything about a relationship with God. But I will never truly understand his purposes and how he works them out. I can't wrap my mind around his plan for us or his plan for this world. The catch, though, is he is faithful. He is bigger and better than me. His purposes are greater than my eye can see or my mind can comprehend. And even when he has disappointed me, his good was accomplished. Maybe not what I considered my good, but his good.

To obey is to surrender. To surrender is to trust. To trust is to love God wholeheartedly and to accept his unreserved, wholehearted love for me. Which ensures my best interest whether or not I like what is in front of me.

Could we have lost our minds and be making the biggest mistake of our lives? Possibly, but I know my God, and I know how to hear his voice. I choose to walk in obedient trust, understanding to the best of my ability what He is leading us to do. If I misstep or I fail, it won't be for lack of trying or for lack of seeking his Kingdom.

There is a lot that happens around us and to us that regularly speaks to the unfaithfulness of people and even of our own unfaithfulness. Nonetheless, as followers of Christ, we must first trust in the faithfulness of our God (Romans 3:3).

My desire is to grow in my trust and faith, so that I may live in peace always. To be able to say as Abraham, “Against all hope, I believe.” Even when it seems hopeless, I will still believe in the promises and goodness of my God.


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Christan Causey is an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God and is the Network Women's Director for the Southern New England Ministry Network. She and her husband, Brad, have three beautiful, young children. They have been ministering in New England for over 9 years, and recently launched Essence Place in Connecticut! Learn more about Christan at her blog: christancausey.com