It never get's easy starting a new church plant. You would think after 21 years of it --it would be a breeze. Although there are familiar patterns, each plant seems to come with it's own unique challenges.
It is amusing how one can forget all the waiting and hard work that comes in the early years of a plant. I guess it is similar to a mother in childbirth...it is funny how you can forget all the pains of labor, and the sleepless nights when your child is older and you embark on another pregnancy.
I think it is like that with a church plant...once it is up and running and taking off-- you just enjoy being a part of this new Church family and it feels like it was always around. Yes, there are daily maintenance and the ups and downs of church growth but the intense beginning stage is a distant memory ---that is until you start again!
I remember last year when the job that we came back to the U.S. began to fizzle out and Dave was approached by several Church Planting organization and was reading and learning about how unchurched Chicago is......I began to see the writing on the wall...God is going to ask us to church plant again....I was resistant to it at first. We have done this several times..shouldn't we be teaching others how to do it? I remember going to one of the church planting assessments ( This has become a pretty cool gig where couples are tested, analyzed, and picked and prodded on to see if they have what it takes to be church planters) and was in a group with other hopeful church planting wives ---everyone seemed so eager and excited to began this journey. I felt I was like the party pooper...sharing some of the challenges that one can face in the beginning.
Slowly, I began to warm up to this idea. One of your initial stages in church planting is catching a vision. I like this stage...I love seeing all the possibilities and potential that this new church plant can be. This is an exciting stage! Listening to the community and seeing how a church can serve and grow is awesome. Sharing this vision with others and having it refined and confirmed is thrilling!
Then comes the waiting! Waiting is really hard! Waiting for next steps...waiting for others to buy in...waiting for needed funds to proceed...waiting for co-workers to join...waiting for relationships to grow and deepen....waiting...lots of hurry up to wait...
I read a recent quote from Pastor T.D. Jakes "Timing is so important! If you are going to be successful in dance, you must be able to respond to rhythm and timing. It’s the same in the Spirit. People who don’t understand God’s timing can become spiritually spastic, trying to make the right things happen at the wrong time. They don’t get His rhythm – and everyone can tell they are out of step. They birth things prematurely, threatening the very lives of their God-given dreams. " I want to dance with God and in His timing.
There is one thing that I have learned from our church planting past is resisting the pressure of busyness....I love the East African word for white person--Muzungu--which literally means one who runs around in circles ---us westerners can get caught up into being busy...making our to-do list....I am not against productivity but often we are just doing busy work and we do not take the time to be still so we can get in to God's rhythm. We have been in Chicago about 9 months now. I feel that we have got a lot done so far but I also feel that we have been selective in our activities so that we are not just filling our time with busyness. This has allowed us time to listen and trust that God has this! I love this quote from Elisabeth Elliot, "Restlessness and impatience change nothing except our peace and joy. Peace does not dwell in outward things, but in the heart prepared to wait trustfully and quietly on Him who has all things safely in His hands.”
My experience has taught me that working with God in his timing things fall into place but when I am impatient and try to do things on my own, I just get frustrated and worn out....and in the end accomplish nothing.
There is an art to waiting. It really goes against our nature and our culture. I find that we are a very instant society. We want immediate results or it is just not worth doing. Working with people takes patience and you have to learn to delay gratification . The relationships you are building are not just clogs in a wheel or potential pew sitters in the church that you are planting but they are real friendship. Seekers are the first to since a lack of authenticity. Jesus was friends with his disciples because he is about relationship and not because he needed them to do something for him. Those of us who are involved in church planting must remember this because there can be some pressure to see everyone as contacts....people are wanting authentic relationships and we maybe the first interaction people have with Jesus ....people have been used so much they do not need yet another individual or system to use them again.
There can also be a lot of disappointment during the early years of church planting. Often times it is not the first folks that are drawn in that commit to the new church plant but it can be the 2nd or 3rd or 4th person that buys in. In other words--the friend of the friend of the friend's relative that may join! It can be disappointing as you invest in several relationships that may float away. The one thing that helps with this is knowing that you never know what seeds take root and when others may come into their lives in the future and draw them deeper in to a relationship with Jesus. Also God is ultimately the one calling them into relationship with Him--you are just his vessel.
Some of the disappointment can come from unrealized dreams of this new church plant. You have to know your end goal but have a lot of flexibility which can often be several different creative ways to get there. Don't be married to any particular road or you will be not only be disappointed but have a hard time switching gears when God is trying to move you. I can remember when we first went to Rwanda we had thought the education road for our kids was going to an existing private school. After a few days our kids realized it was not a good fit for them...it took us parents a little longer...At this time there were several other missionaries, NGO's, and Diaspora moving to Rwanda who were also struggling with their kids' education. Several of us started meeting at our home and prayed, talked and dreamed of other options. Soon we started KICS ( Kigali International Community School- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jdGmtiLgPJc) I am so thankful that we and others were not married to our educational plans for our kids and were flexible to be used by God to start this school that has been a blessing to so many.
Some of the unique challenges that I see here in Chicago is even though we are initially working with the same people group that we have served all these years--they are dynamic--they are changing as they weave this new culture mixed with their childhood culture and we seem to be fighting with more of the secular nature of the U.S. I miss the spiritual heart and hunger that I grew to love so much in East Africa. Where one could feel free to talk openly about spiritual things. The other challenge I see is the polarization of the right and the left and all the labels people are so quick to throw on each other. Both of these challenges need courage to push through the walls that people have built so that authentic community can be established.
Even though this church planting thing can be hard with all the waiting, disappointments, and unique challenges, it is such a rewarding journey and I am reminded by Paul in Galatians 6:9 "And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up."