In my previous two installments I reflected on the early years, which were years of foundation-laying and growth, and the middle years, which were years of conflict and struggle. It seems those middle years were necessary years for pruning, to prepare the ways for amazing fruit in the latter years of my time at North Cincinnati. These are the latter years, up until my retirement from the church in December 2014.
We came to Cincinnati in 1993 to plant not just one church, but several, by God’s grace. However, after nine years, we had planted the mother church, but had not planted a single daughter. In 2003 we sent my Associate Scott Brown to Tempe AZ to plant. We tried to keep him in Cincy but he was recruited to Tempe. God blessed his work in Tempe. But still no plant in the Cincy area. We finally made an attempt in 2004, but it was a failure. We had to close it down after four years, two pastors, a scandal, and lots of money invested. We learned a lot. My mistakes and misjudgments were multiple. (Notably, everywhere I go and tell the NCCC story, whether in the states or Europe, pastors and church planters all love to hear about the failure. Much more interesting and helpful than the successes, it seems…)
We learned and did better in 2007-2009, planting three churches in greater Cincinnati (Josh Reitano, New City, Kevin Jameson, the Oaks, Lee Veazey, Grace and Peace). In 2009 we sent another associate, William Plott, to Madison AL to plant. Again, we tried to keep him in Cincy, but Alabama was home, and he had an opportunity he could not pass up. He has done well in Madison.
In 2012, we launched two more in Cincinnati through Associate Marc Champagne (Redeemer) and Intern Chad Grindstaff (Living Hope). We had hoped to sequence them at least six months apart – both were taking NCCC families with them – but the Lord had other plans. They both launched in October of 2012. The mother church was a bit exhausted by this point, but still rejoicing at the new births.
So from 2004-2013, 8 attempts, 7 churches, much praise and thanks to God. The Session was all in, and provided great leadership and support. The North Cincinnati family was wonderfully generous, gracious and enthusiastic about our multiple births over the years. We gave away a lot of good people and a lot of resources over those ten years. God had exceeded our expectations for fruit-bearing, as well as amazed us regarding our planning and His timing. We had prayed, pitched the vision, talked about church planting, and strategized from the beginning. And nothing for the first nine years – then, an explosion in the next nine. During these years I was blessed with great associates who dropped into my lap, who had the maturity, philosophy of ministry and the experience to succeed. In so many ways, we were out of (our) control and under God’s control.
Lessons learned: 1. Patience and longevity pays. The cliché “don’t overestimate what you can accomplish in five years, and don’t underestimate what you can accomplish in twenty” applies. 2. Failure and conflict are (usually) necessary for success to happen. Is there a better way to grow and learn? 3. Make your plans, and watch the Lord work. “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Prov. 16:9) 4. “Give and it shall be given to you”(Luke 6:38). What we gave away in church planting (people, money, talent), God gave back. He replaced our losses.
Sins to avoid: 1. Pride (“want to know how many…?”). 2. Ambition (“we need more – at the same rate!”) 3. Insensitivity (to the needs of the mother church).
After 21 years, what I’ll miss: staff relationships, leading a team, leading the NCCC flock, the discipline of preaching.
What I won’t miss: the conflicts, putting out fires, being out of ideas, the discipline of preaching.
Regrets: none. I would not trade the middle years of conflict, nor the disaster of a failed church plant. They were absolutely necessary for our church, our leaders, and me, for the glory of God. It was a great run, and great fun. Thanks be to God.