“Pick up your cross and follow me” …and stop being a goofball.Last week I found myself mulling over this profound phrase. Like a Child turning over a shinny new penny in my hand, I thought and thought about what this could possibly mean for me. What would I do with it and how could it change my life?….for the better that is.Yes, for the better. We always want better don’t we? Better life, better kids, better marriages, better organic food, better ability to juggle everything. Better.Yet on a human level, living missional offers about as many luxuries as that shiny new penny in a child’s happy hands. It’s the great inspirational catch phrase of our time, to “do” more with, but only a drop in the bucket of what is needed. What do we do when our missional ideals, don’t match the reality of the challenging tasks ahead?
Lugging the rugged Cross uphill was never part of the bargain was it?
We are now eight months into our first American church plant, in a different culture than the first, with none of the same rules to play by and none of the same support systems. My idealistic-rose colored glasses are very little use to me when the smoke from the rubber hitting the road fills my eyes. It’s always easy to “do great things” around a conference table, with a steaming caramel macchiato in my hand. Yet the longer I labor for the Lord the more I’m shown that Extraordinary, is most often accomplished in doing the ordinary things in life well.
If there are ten people in church today, well then, my extraordinary task in front of me is to love them well. To try and see them, meet them, begin to learn to care about them and who they are as Christ does. If there were 100 new people in church today, then how about I actually find a way to connect with at least one person? Not because I “should” as a good little Christian, but because this is one of my brothers and sisters…or someone I want as a brother or sister.
Sound easy? Simple even?But what if that person is nothing like me, perhaps even dangerous, a threat to my family, the safety of my husband, or the innocence of my child? What then? “Who is my Neighbor?” is a question I think every true disciple of Christ asks at some point or another.Truly living missional is stepping outside my sweet smelling comfort zones and backing away from “the better life” that I strive for, toward a ” better life” for someone outside of myself. Picking up my cross as I mediate on it, is picking up those very things that are the hardest for me, the unpleasant things, and following my Lord to the grave of “self” with it.Living missional is the beginning of picking up that cross, but dying missional is what actually happens when you keep carrying it.
Eight months into Gods mission in Long Beach, and I still have a long way to go in this lesson. Learning about the Discipleship of the cross.
You know you are a church planter/ Apostle when…
- You look around at your church of five people and get excited.
- When new people come to your church, you get unsettled when they tell you they are already Christians.
- The back of your car is filled with coffee pots, sound equipment, random items left behind by strangers, flyers, six versions of the bible, a throw rug, building blocks, and tape.
- You wonder where church will meet next week.
- You get unsettled when your church reaches the 75 person mark and can pay you/ your husband a full wage.
- When asked for income references, you list two or more sources.
- When picking a home, you view its “home-study room”…. Rather than “living room”.
These are just a few observations the first half of this year of Church planting. No doubt it’s not a life for the faint of heart….or boring. While church planting may have its challenges, it is utterly satisfying when the adventurer in you is feeling a bit smothered by the boring routine of life’s normal laundry days.
My husband recently took me away for my birthday to Sequoia national forest. When I arrived at our lodgings and found my stock pile of travel soap had diminished to nothing, I really got upset. Not because I was going to have dirty hair for my hot, 39th birthday bash, but because, as I sat down defeatedly on a very comfy couch, enjoying a fabulous view of the sequoias, I worried that I’d lost my adventurer’s edge…and I hadn’t even hit menopause! This odd phenomena of the missing free toiletries, acquired on long hours of incessant traveling, believe it or not, really tuned me in to the fact that I was, for all my stressing, a church planter to the core.
Why? Because you see, one of the things I should have listed above was “You know your a church planter when you have an unlimited stock pile of hotel soap and shampoo!” Traveling is almost a compulsion for the church planter. Packing is as natural as cleaning your ear wax. A necessary and satisfying evil.
A Church planter is unaccustomed to such words as twiddle, coast, relax and settle…unless that silly church planter is momentarily envying the “normal” people of this world. The dichotomy of need to press on toward ministry mission, often rubs against the occasional weary legged church planters-feet. But be encouraged, it has been only a month since my birthday and I’m due to be collecting travel soaps in a few weeks again. The adventurer may pause, dear church planter…but only to shift gears.
Hear the call, then call those to hear.
“Do not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
I’m really enjoying comparing the birth of a church plant to the nine week gestation period of a pregnant woman and early months of life….mainly the fact that the emotions are all over the place and there is no real logic to the pain…then joy…then confusion… then eye weeping excitement….of both.
Although I have never actually gone through the nine month pregnant period…. I feel eligible to relate because I actually went through a 7 year gestation period of IVF hormones before God gave us our beautiful daughter through the miracle of adoption………Oh I think there are even more parallels there…..perhaps I’ll mix the metaphors a bit if you don’t mind.
“Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy.”
This was the scripture I was given when waiting for the birth of our little girl Liberty Grace. Seeing the result of those prayers took seven long, tedious, years. It also seems God has given me this verse for this period of our church planting endeavours.
You sow, you wait, you plead, you pray, you do all your spiritual callisthenics, but still you are sowing in tears at times. Sometimes for a much longer time than your friend’s church plant. Your prayers are not quite answered in the ways that you’d expect.
There is no shake n bake church birthing kit. Every church plant has its own unique fingerprint.. No two born alike. Some Walk sooner than others, some have quite a few ADHD problems……You get the picture.
Challenges week fourteen-
“Lord I miss our old church…they were perfect…my friends were perfect…Egypt was perfect…I’m soo tired of manna…it’s not like regular food… I like normalcy…it’s so, so normal. ”
“Father, I think we scared everyone off….they’ve come, they’ve seen…they’ve run!”
“Lord, some of those we wanted to stay have left, and some of those we’ve wanted to leave, have stayed.”
So things are not as they use to be in my life. And they will never be that way again. Church as I know it has changed. Moved. Travelled into the belly of my soul and revealed the soft flabby muscles there.
We all remember that infamous day in history, When God said, “Time to get moving!”
Yes, God says this church planters. What do we do?
We stretch out our legs onto the lovely seat in front of us on Sunday and say….”Naa. I’m quite cozy Lord… The coffee’s good, the cakes are tasty and I have my special spot to sit. And great friends.”
So he sends the plagues, gets us uncomfortable, itchy and scratchy like a dog with fleas. We gnaw and bite at ourselves until finally we move away from the source of our discomfort…our over comfort-ability.
Now we’ve gone. We are wandering the desert of utter reliance on God and nothing else. At times the quail falling from heaven is so exciting, we could audition for “Glee” with a magnificent, cheeseball smile on our face.
Other times our nostrils are over-full with our own complaints.
One of my new Years resolutions was “to complain less, trust more.”……I’ve since added an adjuct to my resolution and said, “But Lamenting is Biblical right Lord? I’ll just Lament before you then……..” and away I go.
Still, once you’ve heard the call to go, you can never return to Egypt again….as much as you idealize it, you are now on the move toward something much harder, much stranger, much better. God’s call on your life.
So here I rest this week. God’s Call. My “Lamenting”, but looking forward to a “Glee” day.
I read this in “Our daily Bread” the other morning and I figured this was as good a place as any to start my “Year in the life of a church planter” blogging for the girlies. Yes I’m using that term in the old very un P.C. way as in…”Don’t be such a girl about it.” But lets face it. In the first year of church planting……how many times do we talk about the possibility of things “Folding” or perhaps we do the more spiritual spin to it and say, “Oh perhaps it wasn’t God’s will.” ..which really means…..”oh crap I’m soooo scared of failing and having mud on my face and being the church of only five people and most of them MY family.”
“Challenges” don’t mean we are not in God’s will! That is the first thing that I’ve had to face this year. If so, Paul the apostle would not have ever run his small, scarred, legs around Asia minor right?
Back in June I had the awesome opportunity of talking to a group of “Church planting Wives” Kinda sounds like “Footballer’s wives”…and I suppose it isn’t a far fetched parallel. They run around the world with their men. All these women were being bounced around here, there and everywhere and yet were so excited to be used by God. They were such an encouraging group of Gals. They were on a “mission from God”, excited “to go” and grounding themselves in God’s word.
Yet when the music stops, the conference is over, and you’re out, alone in a foreign country…or just a foreign territory and on the front lines of church planting, the challenges begin. The loneliness, the free falling, rootless existence begins…despite your spiritual support team…which is a must by the way…….If only to hear your screams as you fling yourself into No Man’s land.
First year of challenges for me looked like this…..call me carnal….or call me honest… I don’t mind…but if yours looked like mine, then perhaps we’ve found community in the challenges faced by church planters in the first year.
Day one: “Oh God did we do the right thing????!!!!”
Day two-through sixty: “Oh God are you sure we did the right thing?”
Day sixty one- “God our savings is almost gone….”
Day sixy two- “God our savings is gone!”
Day sixty three- Big, bruising, smack on the head through the word….”Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land, and feed on his Faithfulness.” …….Yes these challenges are from my own journal.
Three month mark- “Lord, is this how we’re suppose to make ends meet? How many more jobs do we take????”
Sixteen weeks- “Lord what if the “bad” kids hurt my wonderful child???! I don’t want my kid to do drugs or learn the proper words for their sexual organs at age two please!”
Seventeen weeks- Smack! Smack! “In all the setbacks of your life as a believer, God is plotting for your joy.” John Piper …
“Oh what a good quote Lord, I’m so rubbish I should not be a church planter. I’m so selfish and self seeking. I Suck.”
And so there they are. The first three months of the Birth of our baby church. Some of my challenges were a bit more spiritual than these. But I chose to enter these because they were the most embarrassing, simply because they had nothing to do with the Spiritual side of things. My hardest challenges are the ones which are the most carnal, because they are a double edged sword. They are my human fears and insecurities and at the same time, they dig deep at the root which I am trying to lay as a church planter. A faithful, solid walk with Christ. These challenges hide my vision of the spirit of God working in me. If I feel unspiritual….well then…I say…what am I doing trying to do this???????
Lesson? Keep coming back to “It is Christ who strengthen’s me.” not “It’s Andrea who strengthens me.”
I’d like, if I were ever to have a tombstone, I’d like it to read, “I did it on purpose!”
Do you remember those days? When you use to say that phrase with perhaps a bit of a rebellious stance, casual hand limply tucked into one pocket, maybe even a little foot tapping away? It was probably about twenty, or thirty or forty years ago for you now so perhaps your brain is getting a little fuzzy about the facts. But trust me, you said it.
As children we did things, “On Purpose” and we knew it because we were told, “No darling, that wasn’t an accident, you did it, “On Purpose”. Quickly we learned that “On purpose” always added intense meaning to everything we did. And being self- preserving creatures at heart, we capitalized on this phrase for our own benefit. “On Purpose” soon became every elementary school child’s adopted term for saving face. Now do you remember?
Perhaps it was just me then…I was born with and extra measure of pride and carried in one elbow a very large funny bone, while my other bony appendages were filled with adventure. So as a child, when setting out into my day, something was bound to catapult those five words “I did it on purpose!” out of my mouth.
Usually I was doing something stupid like tripping over that small sightless spot in the ground, while walking in front of a large group of wonderfully sarcastic nine year old boys. Then, having successfully received loads of laughing attention, I’d pridefully say, “I did it on purpose!” and proceed to finish off my odd dance with a cartwheel or stunt on the high bars, where I could be sure of saving face. Sure I was embarrassed, humiliated, and really wanted to climb under the sticky tarmac and hide. But my pride splashed against my sense of humor to push my stumble into stardom.
This is what it is to be a Church planting “girl” and I hope to remain a girl forever.
When I forget the goofy-girl and simply become the woman, I forget to do my cartwheels amidst my daily stumbles. I focus instead on what Laundry’s not done, what job not completed, what task not ticked off.
Girls, there is a lot of stumbling along the sticky church planting tarmac. A lot of nine year old boys ready to scoff and snicker at any mistake. But doing what we do to the Glory of God and not for any human opinion, puts a new spin in our round off. All we can do when setting out is say, “Father, help me do it “On Purpose” ….Eternal purpose.