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June 18, 2016

The Most Unexpected Source of Pain in Our Church Planting Journey

By Drew Hyun

Church planting is hard. I knew that going in, but I’ve experienced it now a handful of times.

This information–the news that church planting is hard–is something that I heard from coaches, mentors, books, and anyone else who’s been through the fire. I remember bracing myself for this reality four years ago when we just started gathering a team at Hope Church NYC. I made a list of the things I knew would be difficult, including:

  • Planting a church in a secular, non-religious (and sometimes anti-religious) context like NYC
  • Pressure to grow as a church while trying to maintain a steady, non-anxious pastoral presence for people that need a pastor, not necessarily an entrepreneur
  • Financial pressures
  • Wearing multiple “hats” as a church planter
  • Having a regular, life-giving rhythm of work/rest
  • Loving my family well while trying to accomplish all of the above  

Of course, the list above has been resoundingly true to my experience. In fact, four years in, I still struggle with much of the above. However, there’s been one glaring unexpected pain I’ve experienced that I’m now shocked to have overlooked. Put simply, it’s the hurtful words and dismissive postures I’ve felt from other pastors and ministry leaders in the city.

Now, before I continue, I’ve written before about how there have been so many Kingdom-minded pastors that have been nothing but helpful and enthusiastic in the process of planting–I truly cherish the gift that many of them have been. This group far outnumbers the critics, in fact.

However, I never expected that some pastors would have negative words and feelings about us planting churches in NYC.

I thought that the harshest critics and attitudes would come from folks outside the church–secular people or organizations–not fellow pastors and churches in the same city. With that said, here are some of the things I’ve heard and/or experienced:

  • Being criticized for the ethnic composition of our church
  • Being criticized for the socio-economic composition of our church
  • Being told we cannot use a facility at all, even during off hours while the building remains largely unoccupied
  • Being criticized for growing
  • Being criticized for being too big
  • Being criticized for being too small
  • Being criticized for multiplying churches too quickly
  • Being criticized for the seemingly large financial resources we have
  • Being criticized for reaching transplants to the city who are looking for a church home
  • Being criticized for working with multiple denominations who share our same heart and theological disposition
  • Being criticized for planting a church too close to another church
  • Being criticized for “sheep-stealing”
  • Being criticized for not praying enough

I’ve heard some of the above from other pastors directly. Meanwhile, I’ve heard a lot of the above from other people who heard from other people who heard from other people. I’m well aware that there are shades of truth in every critique–and we’re certainly “guilty” of much of the above.

I’m simply writing that I’ve been surprised–shocked even–that the critique has come so easily from other pastors and church planters, some of whom I have never met with nor have they visited our church.

Here’s a confession though: I’ve been one of the pastors/church planters to throw shade at others as well!

Oh how I need the grace and mercy of God.

With that said, here are some practices that I think can help counteract our tendency to send friendly fire toward our colleagues in ministry:

  • Pray for Pastors/Churches – Every single pastor and church–even the ones that seemingly “have it all figured out” and are “successful”–experience flourishing AND disappointment personally and collectively. Everyone goes through highs and lows. Everyone is trying the best we can with what we have against a common enemy (Satan and our fallen world and selves). In other words, everyone needs prayer.
  • Bless Pastors/Churches – There will never be enough churches–especially in highly populated areas like NYC with over 8 million in the 5 boroughs alone. When one church wins and succeeds, we all win and succeed. I can’t tell you how much it’s meant to me to receive blessing from other pastors in the city. Sometimes, those blessings are what’s kept me going through the tough times.

Collaborate with Pastors/Churches 

I realize this is a tough one because it’s hard enough to do the above two. However, wherever there’s an opportunity to collaborate, do so. Of course, collaboration comes out of relationship, and those relationships take time to build and nurture. And someone has to initiate. Why not you?


Drew Hyun

Drew Hyun (@drewhyun) is a Church Planter and Pastor of Hope Church Midtown, as well as the Founding Pastor of Hope Church NYC, a family of diverse churches in NYC. He has spent the last 15 years living and pastoring in New York. He loves cities, ESPN, and naps, and finds it a restful Sabbath when all three come together. He resides in New York City with his lovely wife Christina and their son David. Drew is the author of no books and posts things from time to time on Twitter and Facebook.


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