What Willy Wonka, the lottery, & my 4th child have taught me: 6 nuggets from 6 months of church planting

It’s hard to believe, but we just passed the 6 month mark as church planters.   In June, our family and a bunch of faith-filled friends moved from Knoxville, TN to Chattanooga, TN to begin an adventure in following God’s invitation to start a new community of faith.

What a ride it’s been.

Now that I’m 6 months in, I can look back and consider a few things God has taught me along the way.  

  1. Church Planting ain’t for sissies.

(Full disclosure: the jury’s still out on whether or not I am one.)  What I do know, is that this gig isn’t for the faint of heart.  It’s for the tenacious, stubborn, and optimistically naive.  

Jesus said it’s the “forceful” who advance the kingdom of God.    

“From the time of John the Baptist until now,

the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing,

and forceful people have been seizing it.” (Matt. 11:12)

 

  1. Desperation TRUMPS Competence.

Early on in ministry, I believed my greatest asset was my competence.  I wanted to work hard.  Sound smart.  Be prepared.  Execute with excellence.  While these goals aren’t intrinsically bad, they must be kept in perspective.  All of this has a predictable ceiling: ME.  

I’ve discovered that I’m not clever enough to change lives.  

Perhaps the best thing we have to offer in ministry is our desperation.  Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do NOTHING” (Jn 15:5). Nothing.  Nada.  Nunca.  

While my competence gets things done, it’s my weakness, desperation, and dependence on Jesus that bear fruit.  It’s a sneaky distinction – but an important one.

Paul wrestled with this too.  Listen in on God’s dialogue with him:

“But he said to me,

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses,

so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Cor. 12:9)

I want the power of Christ to rest on me.  This means I must embrace and acknowledge my desperation.  That’s the truth of the gospel lived out through heralds like you and I.

 

  1. 4 kids is a whole lot of kids.

I still remember when Katie called to give me the big news.  It was a Tuesday.  She was crying…they weren’t happy tears.  My response was…uh…less than enthusiastic.  

ANOTHER KID?!  We already had 3 HIGH ENERGY boys.  We thought we were done.  There was already so much that was unknown and challenging ahead of us.  No one in their right mind would throw another baby into the mix.  Except God.

Our apprehension eventually turned to anticipation.  Then anticipation to excitement – especially when we found out that our little bambino was going to be a girl.  GIRL!  I squealed like a pig in heat in that dark ultrasound room.     

And on December 12th we met our daughter, Claire Elizabeth.  The boys got to meet their much anticipated baby sister.  Our new community got to rally around and claim one as their own.  

But it wasn’t until I saw our Honda Odyssey with FOUR car seats in it that it hit me – 4 kids is a whole lot of kids.  Our life isn’t boring. Our home rarely quiet.  But I wouldn’t change a thing.  

(Most of the time.)

 

  1. “Big dreams are made of thousands of tiny actions.”

I read this quote from Jon Acuff awhile back and it was exactly what I needed to hear.  

It was another one of those days, that followed one of those weeks that was full of tiny, mundane actions.  I’m sure you can relate.  It felt like my “big dream” got buried somewhere underneath post-it notes and to do lists.  

Over time, however, what we faithfully chip away at will have a major impact.  Growth is slow, often tedious, and requires discipline. I’m not a fan of any of these qualities, but I recognize they are absolutely essential if we want to accomplish what God has put in our hearts.

Unless you win the lottery.   

 

  1. God ALWAYS delivers on his promises.

That said, God’s timing and delivery method rarely coincide with my agenda.  Therein lies the rub with our faith.  In the words of Veruca Salt from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory: “I want it NOW!”

I suppose there’s a little Veruca Salt in all of us.  Have you ever felt like God was late?  Or worse, wasn’t going to deliver at all?

God led me to read through the book of Hebrews in the fall to teach me what faith looks like.  The familiar and often quoted passage came alive and has reoriented my soul:

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for,

the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1)

If everything happens just as I want it to, when I want it to, I suppose I wouldn’t need God.  And that would make me smarter than God. Ultimately, life wouldn’t require faith – just a good business plan.  

God has a better way.

God plants seeds of HOPE in our hearts, then whispers, “Trust me.”  

These seeds are like clues that invite and entice us to keep following, as Hebrews says, even when we can’t see where we’re going. As day turns to night, and our visibility begins to wane, our faith is then tested.

This is typically when I tap out.  But this is when it gets really good.  It’s our confidence in God that assures us, not our circumstances. I typically flip that.  Not so with faith.  And as we look in our rear view, God indeed has delivered on all He’s promised.

   

  1. I couldn’t do this ALONE.

Church planters have often been characterized as Marlboro men: solo cowboys conquering new frontiers.  Some are wired up for that. I’m just not that guy.

While God has birthed and is breathing vision into me as the leader of this community, I can’t imagine this experience without the support of my wife, our sending church, those who have joined the movement, and those who are coming.

Church planting is hard.  But when you’re in the trenches with people you respect, admire, love, and enjoy, it feels like there’s nothing we can’t do together.  I hope to grow old with these pioneers and treasured friends.  They are among my greatest heroes.

 

What have YOU been learning lately?  

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