The house is under contract, there are packing boxes everywhere, the moving truck is booked and it’s all coming together now. I’m planting a church - New City Church in Bath, Maine, to be exact. My family, together as a team, is planting a church and we see God’s fingerprints all over it. This does not mean we’re now living the perfect dream; it just means that, as this mission unfolds before us with all the inevitable curve balls and trials, we are focusing on Jesus. Or at least we're trying to anyway. We are remembering His past faithfulness and mercy in our lives, and we’re hoping in that very same faithfulness for the shaping of our future.
Here are a few ways that God is using church planting to shape me and the people I love:
- He is shaping the faith of my children as they witness what it means to leave what is comfortable for the sake of the Kingdom. They are coming to understand that being a Christian is really about dying to self and laying your life down for your friends. They are learning, and will continue to learn through the hard times we face, that when there seems to be no one else around to hold you up, Jesus is the greatest friend and Savior. There’s no greater lesson I wish for them to learn in life than the fact that Jesus is all they need. Moving across the country with a mission of making disciples, both in our city and abroad, will help teach that valuable lesson and will shape us all.
- He is shaping and strengthening my marriage. As my wife and I encounter the enemy’s divisiveness and his attacks on the fabric of our home, through prayer and seeking the humility of Christ, we are able to witness His victory time and again. Every institution of God has its troubles; nothing on this earth is perfect. No church, no family, and certainly no marriage has it all together. But we know Christ is a perfecting and sanctifying God. His Spirit is renewing our inner man and the integrity of our marriage. If our marriage and our home is totally committed to the work of Christ, He can use that as a testimony to the city in which we dwell that Jesus is a patient, loving, forgiving, gracious, and merciful Savior. It will help our efforts of declaring the Gospel to people who are broken, just like we are, and in need of such a Savior.
- He is shaping me as a man and as a pastor and He's reminding me that it’s not about me at all. It’s about Him. It’s not my show, and the sheep I come to shepherd are His sheep. He is in charge. I will place great time and effort into all that I do as a pastor and Bible teacher, as I believe every pastor should. My heart is committed to raising up leaders, preaching the Gospel, making disciples, and learning the ins and outs of the community in order to serve them better. But, in the end, “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” (Psalm 127:1)
- He’s shaping my understanding of what it means to repent. I’m sure I’ll be doing a lot of that in the coming days. Not because I plan to sin more as a church planter, but because I believe repentance is a preventative measure, too. I can either repent of a grave sin after the consequences are already heavy upon me, or I can stay close to Jesus, my Savior, and repent as He faithfully points to the roots of sin in my heart. Being under the blood and under grace means that, though He may remind me of my wicked heart, He does not do so to condemn me, but to purify me for Himself and make me like Him.
Psalm 51:3 “For I know my transgressions,and my sin is ever before me.”
Psalm 51:7 “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”
- He is shaping my understanding of what it means to depend on Him. Most Christians know of this need; we even sing about it in church. But stepping out to plant a church is pairing me with His heart in a way I've never experienced. This is His Church and He is building it. Church “planting” is the common phrase and church “planter” is the given title, but who is actually doing the planting here? How can I do it unless the Spirit of God is moving? I can’t. So I desperately need Him. Not only do I need him, but I’m aware that the city of Bath - all its inhabitants, businesses, families, individuals and churches - are affected by the curse of sin and desperately need Him, too. Jesus is the Redeemer. I am an ambassador in His name. My whole family is. We are going into a field that is white for harvest, but He is the Lord of that harvest, not me or anyone else.
I have no doubt that this list will grow and I want to be shaped. I need to be molded by His word and by His grace, and I'm sure you realize the same thing about yourself. Let me remind you that to resist spiritual reform is to resist the very will of God who seeks to reform you. When we surrender to His Spirit in a way in which we are asking for all of Him, it’s then that we begin to understand Christianity at its core. It’s about a God who takes nobodies and makes them into somebodies. It’s about a Sovereign Potter who takes old misshapen lumps of clay and, though they do not deserve it, transforms them into works of art. The process can be hard and painful, but the greatest transformations always are. So whether you’re church planting or planting a garden it’s all for Him. Whether you pastor a church or practice medicine, you do it all for His glory.
The Apostle Paul said: “For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” (Romans 14:18)
And as the psalmist prayed, so we pray: “Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame; they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.” (Psalm 25:3-4)
When the moving truck rolls out of our Tennessee driveway less than two weeks from today, it’s going to hit us like a ton of bricks again; the fact that we are feeble, weak creatures, and without Jesus, we cannot do any of this. But we are banking on the words which Jesus spoke to His disciples and to us.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
He is with us till the end and He is with you till the end - shepherding, shaping, and leading us as we step out in His name.