The Art of the Start: A Candid Interview with Shawn Lovejoy

About Shawn Lovejoy

Shawn has a heart for coaching leaders, pastoring pastors, and helping them conquer what keeps them up at night. Shawn previously served as Founding and Lead Pastor of Mountain Lake Church, and Directional Leader of and the annual Velocity Conference. Now Shawn has devoted himself, full-time to pastors and leaders. Shawn is the author of The Measure of Our Success: An Impassioned Plea to Pastors, and his upcoming book, Be Mean About the Vision: Preserving and Protecting What Matters.

Q: What compelled you to start Mountain Lake Church?

A: Over the years, I’ve come to embrace the fact that you know you’re called when you can’t do anything else! I came to a point in my life where I just could not do anything else but start Mountain Lake Church. To me, that’s how you know, that you know, you’re called.

Q: Can you describe what you mean when you say, “I know that I know”?

A: I think, obviously, experiences play a role. Years ago, I was a college and career Sunday school teacher in rural Alabama. We only had 4 people in our ministry, who were all college dropouts, and we started reaching out to the crack addicts, prostitutes, and people from all walks of life that needed Jesus. It was through that season in life that God just ruined me. I saw true life-change and I wondered what it would look like if we had a whole church full of broken people. Through my experiences, God planted a desire in my heart.

That desire led to my passion. I believe God uses your passions – just your NATURAL passions. Call me carnal, but I’ve always enjoyed hanging out with “lost” people – more than Christians. This was my passion.

And there’s also opportunity. There are so many opportunities to reach people that other ministries aren’t reaching. Together, experience, passion and opportunity have helped me to recognize, along with my giftedness, that I was made for this. I WAS MADE FOR THIS! A lot of guys get paralyzed by fear, and honestly I didn’t know that I would be successful, but I would be failing not to try, and I knew that.

Q: Help us understand how you personally deal with fear and move forward to start?

A: I didn’t grow up with a charismatic background, so I kind of refute the idea of demons jumping out from behind every bush. But because of this, I think I negated the reality of spiritual warfare too much and didn’t recognize it in in the early years. I’ve come to embrace the fact that fear only comes from one place – God does not give us fear.

If you’re feeling fear, it is only coming from the evil one, who is trying to keep you from becoming who God wants you to be. Understanding this has helped me to recognize what Satan is doing and instead I can start to listen to the still, small voice of God telling me that He never gives a spirit of fear but of power, love, and self-discipline. It’s very spiritual for me to refute these fears.

Q: What is your experience with starting smaller?

A: Many people think they can’t start new things because they can’t start big. We decided that we were not going to wait until we had enough money and resources to be part of starting small churches. We started small and took a small offering and bought the small things that we needed to plant a new church. We decided that we wouldn’t let resources be a barrier. We went door to door and told people about this new church and when it launched there were over 400 people that attended, which was larger than our first church was at the time.

I also think one of the main reasons people don’t start new things is because they think it needs to be perfect. You can’t solve all the problems and then go make all the decisions. If you walk by faith, you make the decisions and then solve the problems. Just start with what you have now. If you’re faithful in the small things, God will provide for the big things. We pioneered our way forward, fought past the fear of perfectionism and started with what we had.

Q: What happens if we start with what we have and it fails?

A: John Maxwell said a few years ago, “The first class they ought to teach in college is ‘Failure 101.’” Failure is a normal, natural, and a necessary way of life. Look at Jacob, who became Israel, he started with failure. And then there’s Joseph and his many dreams, he also started with failure. Failure is part of the process. As we fail, we learn and we fail forward. Failure does not mean you quit, it just means God is guiding you, pruning you, challenging you and fashioning you into the person He wants you to become. In Jacob’s case, he ended up with a limp, but frankly God used him greater after the limp than before the limp. I think it’s ok to lead with a limp! Successful people aren’t the ones who fail, they’re the ones who fail and keep on failing. That’s success!

Q: For those that say, “I’m afraid of failure,” what can you say to overcome this fear?

A: I tell people they need to pilot things – take a simple step first. I started coaching very simply and I looked to see if God was blessing it or not. Start small, not big. Dream big, but start simple. If you feel led to start
a church, start a small group first. If you can’t get anyone to join your small group, then I can almost promise you that God didn’t call you to start a church.

Q: How do you start a “new thing” within a pre-existing structure?

A: Be careful because you can get fired! If you do the right thing, the wrong way, you still get the same results. And too many times, I see new leaders go off to a conference and come back on Sunday, stand on their platform and say, “I’ve been to a conference, God spoke to me, and we’re changing everything.” It sounds humorous, but I know pastors that have used that rhetoric and most are not on staff at their churches anymore. The goal of change is to take people with you on your journey.

Here are the things that I teach on…

  1. You have to be committed to modeling the way of the new change. If you want to start something, you have to be the culture you want to build.
  2. Seek outside help. Find key leaders that will help you navigate the change you want to make.
  3. Don’t move too quickly; give people time by discipling them in the change. I held a lot of meetings with key leaders and after about a year’s time, we finally went public with the change.
  4. Stick to it! Keep talking about it, and encourage people by telling them you want them to come along with you on the journey.

Be intentional about what you do and why you do it. If we don’t know why we’re doing what we’re doing, when it’s challenged, we will lose our passion and give up on our vision.

Q: How can we tell when it’s time to take the next step?

A: When it comes to knowing when to take the next step, I believe that leaders don’t listen enough. We need to listen to the key leaders around us and get their honest opinion before we start moving forward with the vision that God has given us. There are three criteria for these key leaders:

  1. Love God
  2. Love Vision
  3. Love Me

These types of people have the church’s, the vision and your best interest in mind. At our church, we allowed the body of Christ to speak into the process. This saved our church a lot of pain.

As leaders, whatever you do, don’t react to the bad experiences you’ve had with people, but be willing to surround yourself with people you trust and can listen to.

Q: Why did you decide to do multi-site?

A: It really was based upon our experiences, passions, and vision for the church. Church planting was our DNA. We were scared to death to start multi-sites, but we brought people in from the outside (coaches/consultants) and got their opinions on our vision and plan. By the time we decided to tell the church, I had all the confidence I needed to tell them about our vision and our well thought-out plan.

Q: What have you learned from your decades of experience on how to mitigate the frustration people have with change?

A: First of all, there are two types of responses when you’re enacting change. There is criticism and critiques. Critique comes from someone who loves you and the vision. Criticism comes from someone whom you can’t make happy.

As leaders, we need to respond to both the criticism and critiques, but don’t react. I’ve learned these types people are not “mean” people, they just don’t understand the vision and need discipleship.  Remember, they’re not the enemy and instead need the vision explained to them.

Q: How do you effectively deal with criticism so it doesn’t hijack your vision?

A: You have to have thick skin and balance grace with truth. We need to be honest and respond to these people. The reason we were so unified at Mountain Lake was because we responded to each and every one of the critics, and we talked with them about their criticism. Most importantly, don’t try to hold on to everyone. Our goal is not to please everyone. We can’t get caught in that trap.

Q: What are the top two or three lessons that you’ve learned for starting something new?

A: I think the top two mistakes people make when starting something new is that they start too soon and too underfunded. People tend to push forward without having done all the homework and without having set milestones. Milestones are more important than timelines. You need key systems and leaders in place before launching anything. People often will launch to soon because they feel like they’re losing time. But the truth is, by waiting and getting all these systems in place, you can hurdle past those painful early months and become a faster growing church from day one.

Secondly, leaders launch too underfunded. Like building a house, it always takes longer and costs more than we think. Often times, the inside support does not match the outside support. If you’re starting something new, do your homework and prepare as much as you can in the beginning before you start.

Q: How do you measure the success?

A: I always say, if you’re not happy with 10 people, you won’t be content with 100, 1000 or 10,000 people. Basing your success upon future numbers is one of the emptiest pursuits in humanity.

The biggest lies that I think pastors tell themselves are about future numbers. When I get to this number of members, it will be so much easier. When I hire that person, it will solve our problems. When I get that building, it will be so much better. That day never comes because the needs always outweigh the resources.

To measure success, I had to embrace the fact that at the end of the day, I was not going to compromise who I was, my relationship with God, my family or the vision. If I’ve done all that, then I’ve been successful.

Q: You have a new book coming out in April, tell us little about the book?

A: In 2003 we started Velocity and I spoke at one of the first conferences about what it meant to be “mean” about your vision. And how it’s easy to have a vision, but it’s another thing to see it through, to die for it, and to protect it. At the time, very few people were talking about how to protect and preserve your vision. So we started coaching pastors on how to be “mean” about their vision. Through this coaching, I felt the need and permission to finally write about how to protect your vision.

Q: Final last words?

A: If God gives you a vision – it’s a sacred trust. Your vision is a stewardship to God and you’ll be held accountable for it. If we start something new and we quit or give up on the vision because it gets hard or because we feel like we’ve failed before we know that God has released us from it, then we failed to steward the vision that God has given us.  We have missed the mark and it’s literally a sin to give up on the dream God has given us.

When you say I do, you did – you have to finish what you’ve started. God honors people who stick it out.

Listen to the full interview with Shawn Lovejoy below. Want to see Shawn in person? Join us at Sticky Teams at LCBC Church in Lancaster, PA this April 18-19. REGISTER NOW!


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