I confuse myself, and I don’t think I’m alone.
When we began planting a church in Liberty Village, I was pretty sure that our goal was to plant ourselves and the gospel in a community where the gospel isn’t known. It would be messy; progress would be slow; but we would pray for people to come to know Christ and persevere even when it was hard. Out of that would come a church, if God so blessed. Failure would be a very real possibility as we live on the frontier. This is not a safe option.
Just a few months in, I’ve noticed a few things. One: I’m busy, and the busyness is keeping me from living on mission. Two: Our community isn’t as far along as we would like; some of us are living in the same community, but are lives aren’t as intertwined as I’d hoped. Three: I get discouraged when not enough (notice how slippery that term is? what’s enough?) people show up to one of our services.
If I’m not careful, I completely miss the point of what we are trying to do.
Here are a few things that come to mind as I think about this.
First, consider the possibility that this confusion may be pretty widespread. Will Mancini frequently asks pastors, “How do you want your church to be different in two years?” The most common response he receives is, “More people.” (See Innovating Discipleship for more.) More people is good, but it’s only part of the picture. He lists some other possible responses he rarely hears: more desparate for Jesus, or more friendships with people far from God. It may be that “more people” is part of what we should be aiming for in two years; it may be that there are more important things that have escaped our attention. For myself: I’d love more people living in community and on mission in Liberty Village over simply more people sitting in rows anytime. I just need to remember this.
Second, please help me celebrate the right things. When people ask how church planting is going, it’s easy to give a sanitized answer. The reality is that it is often hard. The results are not always evident. Success is not always guaranteed. The process is messy. And this isn’t when things are going poorly; this is church planting at its best. When you are planting a church that aims to be built out of new kingdom citizens, this is exactly how it should look.
That’s why I love what J.D. Payne says: expect new churches to be immature. That’s how they’re supposed to look. Or, as Tim Challies puts it, expect bad singing. Expect it to be hard. Expect setbacks and disappointments. In the middle of the risk and the messiness and sometimes apparent defeat, God does some pretty amazing things.
I spent most of yesterday reminding myself that these things are true. Pray that I’ll remember tomorrow. I have a tendency to confuse myself with the wrong metrics more quickly than I’d like.