When The Heavens Feel like a Brass Ceiling

Everywhere my wife and I have been sent to plant a church, I hear the same thing from the pastors already there. “This is a preacher’s graveyard”. What they’re really saying is that this place is tough to plant a church.

I spoke to a pastor recently who has been in my city of Wesley Chapel for over a year. He moved his family here from Tennessee with a mandate from God to plant a church. I could hear the sorrow in his voice as he told me that up to date they haven’t been able to attract one person to their weekly study.

This is not his first time planting a church. He said that other places seemed so easy but this place was different. He couldn’t for the life of him figure out why.

Look at what the Apostle Paul said concerning church planting in Asia: 2 Corinthians 1:8–11

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.

The first 5 years are critical

Church planting is not for the faint at heart. That’s not an elitist statement, it’s reality. Church planting is tough! There’s no formula for it. While we see patterns of how others planted churches in scripture, they didn’t lay out a model or plan, other than making disciples.

Years one through five are critical for a church. I know that most would not consider that time period for a church plant but so many transitions happen during those years.

It’s in the first five years that you figure out the who, how, when, why, and what of why God sent you to where you are to plant. It’s also during that time period and those that follow that God begins to show you things about yourself that you didn’t know. The things that he wants to transform in you so that you are continually conforming into the image of Christ. That’s the culmination of the gospel after all.

There’s something about the 3rd year that is what I would call critical mass. If there is not significant growth or perceived success, the lead planter can get discouraged to the point of throwing in the towel.

This is when they should remember why they obeyed God in the first place to plant. That God is the one who builds the church and that the primary role of the planter is to faithfully make disciples and train others to do the same, not grow and audience.

You have to keep pressing in even when it seems like nothing is happening. This is the ceiling that we have to bust through.

Years 6 through 10

During years 6–10, it would seem that the church is in a good stride unless decline and plateau have set in. At which case, if the leaders and congregation have not adapted by the leading of the Holy Spirit, it can lead to burnout and the shutdown of the church.

Truthfully, the desire to quit hits during every year, sometimes every Monday morning as it reveals the idolatry of success instead of faithfulness to fulfill God’s call.

This is where persistence is important. Even when we have feelings of wanting to quit, we press on regardless of perceived success or failure in our own eyes or minds and in the mind of others.

If we’re honest with ourselves and others, the desire for success drives a lot of what we do. The desire to build our own kingdoms. The desire to be known as the pastor of “that church” is something that we have to lay at Jesus’ feet constantly.

Years 10+

Obviously, I’m writing as if the original planter has endured this long. By this time he, his family, and his team have learned their spiritual territory and know which spiritual weapons work alongside the gospel to be a city on a hill in their area. Unfortunately, it seems that the average tenure in most denominational churches is 3.8 years. Most don’t stay long enough to see the fruit of their labor.

By year 10, the influence they’ve become should be spilling over into the community and the new church plants in the area. Their influence as a church as well as the influence of the lead planter/pastor should be a source of encouragement to those who have answered the call to do the same. That is, if they’re kingdom minded.

This is where perseverance shows dividends that would’ve never been achieved had we quit due to how hard it is to plant or when it got difficult and stayed that way for what seemed like years.

Let me address the brass ceiling

Do you seriously think that the devil would give up on the territory he believes is his? By definition the preaching of the cross of Christ is the literal pushing against the gates of hell. The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.

The devil will do everything in his limited power to keep you distracted, discouraged, disgruntled, ambitious, jealous, angry…. The list can go on and on.

He’ll lie to you constantly. The biggest lie that he will spue at you daily and sometimes by the hour and minute is that your identity is wrapped up in your ministerial success. You must at all cost cast this thought down according to 2 Corinthians 10:4–6

Your identity is who you are in Christ. Your identity is that you’re a beloved child of God. That He’s your ABBA and that He loves you as much as He loves Jesus His Son. This truth about His love leads to intimacy which leads to transformation.

Persistently keep pressing

Let Jesus be our greatest example. This what Hebrews 12:1–2 says:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame, because of the joy set before Him. You and I and the countless others who know Him and those who yet know Him are the joy that was set before Him.

Persist and press until what would seem like heavens that feel like a brass ceiling become open heavens. Persist and press until “as in heaven so on earth”. Persist and press until “His kingdom comes and His will is done”. Persist my fellow co-laborers, persist!

Be encouraged! God who called you is faithful! He will faithfully finish the work He has started in you and the work He has called you to undertake.