My family left the US on January 1, 2012 and arrived in our new city on January 3, 2012. In our one year as church planters to an unknown land we have learned many important lessons. We desire to share these as a deeper way into our lives but also as a way to help prepare futurer international church planters. In no way is this list exhaustive or necessarily new to those who have been in our shoes before; and we do not pretend we have it all figured out because we learned something but rather we want to share our lessons to help others in the pipeline to serve internationally. To share these we will break it into three posts, each containing five lessons learned.
1. It's All About God's Glory
You would think that this is a given but many people struggle to keep this as the ultimate goal in church planting. It is easy to look at the numbers, if you have some to report, and allow some of that recognition to go to oneself. Our ultimate aim should be to continually point to Jesus as the one who worked and deserves the glory.
Our aim here should ring true with Psalm 115:1: "Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!"
2. Go with or Join a Team
This cannot be stressed enough as any mission field can be a lonely place to be. Aside from that greater things usually happen with a larger group as they are able to do more. By joining an existing team we were able to not make some of the same mistakes that are teammates had already made in their time overseas.
This also allows for the work to be spread out to more places and areas in our part of the world. When joining an existing team it is also helpful to plan times of regular prayer, encouragement, and fellowship as it will take some time for true bonding to occur.
3. Set Clear and Realistic Expectations (Cultural, Language, Ministry, Etc.)
If you are the team leader it would be a good idea to establish what the expectations look like for those who are joining your team, especially in the areas of cultural, language, and ministry. Doing this sooner than later is a huge benefit to the overall team dynamic. It is a shame to be too lax on some things up front only to fumble through setting them up later.
This also helps so that there is no confusion and also allows for built in accountability. It is a shame to see people struggling through a certain area only because it is an unknown expectation, many times not realistic to their amount of time on the field.
4. Recognize that You Will Change, Your Marriage Will Change, and You Will Be Dealing with Change!
This is one that you hear a lot before moving overseas but it is also one area that you cannot fully grasp until experiencing it. It is not a bad thing, but it is a reality that if you try to ignore it may be your end. And it is not that you necessarily desire all of the change, but when you move to a cultural that is sometimes the opposite of your own then things will not continue to work as they did before. The most important thing is to recognize that this change will happen and use grace with one another through these changes.
5. Intentionally Choose Some Nationals to Invest In
You cannot invest in everyone, nor should you, but it is a good idea to intentionally choose some to invest in. You will not want to do this too early as it could blow up in your face but you also do not want to allow too much time to pass before choosing some to invest in heavily.