Twelve years ago, we launched weekly worship services at Mountain Lake Church. Wow. What a ride! God has used me despite my stupidity and I have learned so much along the way.

Here’s the top twelve lessons from the last twelve years.

Having a vision is easy.

Sticking to the vision takes extraordinary discipline and effort. Every pastor and church has a vision. Every one I’ve seen is Biblical. However, many church planters get sidetracked from their visions within the first few years. We have stuck to our guns. We’ve been “mean about the vision.” It’s made all of the difference!

Conviction and Courage is more important than strategy.

My passion and sense of conviction, along with the courage to stay the course is more important than any brilliant strategy I could conjure.

No Plan is perfect; so, work your Plan!

Our ministry plan is not perfect. However, we’ve worked the plan every year the last twelve years and every year we’ve gotten better at what God has called us to do. We don’t have “vision flavor of the month” or “small group method of the year.” We’ve worked our plan. We’ve been consistent in our ministry approach.

People come. People Go.

Go with the STAY-ERS.
Don’t focus on who’s leaving; focus on who stays. The ones who stay will see the mission through and experience the fruit of mission accomplished! When one leaves, God will bring five to replace them… if we stay focused!

God does things the way He wants.

It has almost NEVER happened exactly the way we drew it up. However, that’s precisely what has kept us dependent on Him! Proverbs 16:9 (NIV) says: “In his heart, a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” What a prophetic verse in my life these last twelve years! On many occasions, what I deemed as a failure was God’s sharpening and sovereignty at work in my life and church!

In God’s Story, ordinary matters.

God loves to use ordinary people. I am one of those ordinary people. The very reasons or excuses I might use to disqualify myself from being used greatly by Him make me the perfect candidate for extraordinary ministry! What are your excuses as to why God can’t use you? Those are the very reasons God wants to use you; because you’ll know it’s not about you!

Change the way people think about church.

In the first year of our church, we made a decision: In everything we do, we’re going to seek to change the way people think about church. This is so much bigger than the type of music we do or our dress, even though they are parts of the equation! It affects everything we do. Examples? Folks don’t have to be “Christians” to go on a mission trip. They might become one by going! They don’t have to be a “Christian” to volunteer at our church, much less be a member! Our small groups are not only open to new people, but are going after people who don’t go to church! Every group is responsible to “get off the couch,” serve and care missionally for people groups in our community.

Go after unchurched people.

We’re not worried about swapping sheep or reaching professional Christians. If they want to join our mission to reach the lost, great. If not, great. We are here to help as many people as possible find a relationship with God through Jesus. That’s our laser beam focus. Take us or leave us! We’re here to reach people who don’t like Jesus or Christians.

Be careful what you ask for.

Did you know unchurched people don’t walk in and start tithing? And it probably won’t be a three-month process, either; probably more like three years! Unchurched people smoke and curse in the parking lot, and maybe even in the sound booth! All of these things happen in our church. Being a hospital for sinners is messy!

The right team in the right seats makes all the difference.

We’ve always had a great Ministry Team at our church. I am thankful for every one of them. The right team members with the right gifts and skills, in the right seats, in the right seasons of the church, allows a church to continue to breathe and grow and reach people for Jesus Christ. However, the wrong team members in the wrong seats for too long will put a lid on the church’s effectiveness.

I must measure success God’s Way.

Success is being who God called me to be and being obedient to what God has called me to do. I am so tempted to measure success by this week’s attendance. However, I’m never as good as people think I am when we’re exploding numerically; and I’m not as bad as I think I am when we’re not. My role is to be obedient to the call and stay sane, centered, and happily married in the process. That is success!

God is faithful.

God never gives up: on me or on my ministry! He hasn’t given up on you, either! Don’t give up on yourself. We only fail when we give up. God never gives up.

He is faithful!

About Shawn:

While written in 2013 at the twelve year mark of Mountain Lake Church, these lessons are timeless and instruct us today. Shawn is the founder and CEO of CourageToLead.com. His heart beats for coaching leaders and helping them conquer whatever is keeping them up at night. Shawn has also been a church planter and a megachurch pastor. His latest book, Be Mean About the Vision: Preserving and Protecting What Matters, released in 2016

Shawn has been married for 24 years to his best friend Tricia, and has three children: Hannah, Madison, and Paul. They live in Trussville, AL, a suburb of Birmingham.


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