In 2008, my husband and I prepared to move our little family away from the only culture we’d ever known, with one mission before us: we hoped to plant a church where the gospel would be preached, known, and lived. We tucked away our years of ministry and life experience alongside the dishes and the baby crib in the moving van, but we didn’t then know how much we didn’t yet know.
Everyone cheered us on and told us they were proud of us for following God’s call, but some also warned us of the obstacles and difficulties ahead. We tried to wrap our minds around what challenges we might face, but we were full of zeal and youthful energy, and I imagined going toe-to-toe with those yet unseen difficulties and forcing them into submission.
Then we encountered the reality of church planting. In our new culture, so foreign to us, no one much cared that we’d arrived to save the day: neighbors shrugged, fellow laborers said we were not needed, and we experienced the wariness and even opposition of others around us. We were a novelty in that we appeared seemingly as aliens out of thin air, having had no prior connections to our new city, but few were intrigued by the thought of a new church or of this Jesus we were sharing. In other words, it took precious little time for me to uncover the obstacles and challenges some had tried to prepare us for, and my courage and boldness dissipated into uncertainty and doubts.
The Challenge of Loss
There are costs to following Jesus. We know Scripture tells us this is true, we know we are commanded to count the cost before following Him, and many of us who have left “house or brothers or sister or mother or father or children or lands” have certainly counted the cost before leaving a place for the sake of Christ. However, we can’t know the daily consequences of that leaving until we have actually left. The cost is counted before, but the cost is experienced in the midst of the work and, for most, experiencing the cost leads to much grieving. We may grieve cultural familiarity or relationships changing. We may grieve a way of life we’d always envisioned for ourselves or for our children. We may grieve how different ministry looks in our new context compared to our old one.
All of these are legitimate losses because in them we have lost a sense of home. Grieving the cost is not wrong, but becoming embittered in the grief can send us veering off course and onto paths of destruction. We must bring our griefs to God, the source of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3), and we must let our disorientation and unfulfilled longings point us to our true home. This is how Abraham and Sarah walked by faith as they fulfilled God’s call; they “acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had the opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:13-16).
The Challenge of the Unseen
The big “go” when we’re commissioned or when we make our commitment to follow God is exciting, celebrated, and adrenaline-filled. The little “go’s” laboring over language (for those overseas), deciphering the bus system, or figuring out how to purchase groceries in a huge city are rarely celebrated and rarely exciting, and it’s in those very moments that we become ripe for frustration and feelings of being forgotten. The big “go” is filled with a thousand little “go’s,” and most of them are tucked away, unseen by human eyes and certainly not what we’d write in a newsletter to our supporters.
However, it’s precisely when we’re tucked away that we find out who we’re actually serving and why; it’s then that we consider if the gospel is enough to hold us in place and enough to compel us outward to serve. In other words, there is a gift in being tucked away unseen and quite possibly forgotten by those back home: we find out that what we really need is something we already have. We have a God who sees all and delights in our faithfulness. “What we are is known to God,” Paul says, and this truth alone can sustain us in the unseen work and in all the little “go’s”.
The Challenge of Persistent Discouragement
The little “go’s” can become frustrating and wearying because we don’t always see direct results from our efforts. We wonder why God called us to a place only to leave us seemingly languishing and unfruitful. Discouragement seems ever-present. It certainly has been a plague for me, even as we’ve seen fruit from the seeds we’ve sown in church planting. I’m prone to look at what’s broken rather than what God has redeemed, including in my own heart. I’m also prone to look to myself as the antidote to my own discouragement or to look to myself as the one capable enough to make spiritual fruit grow.
In the face of discouragement, when we look at ourselves, we see only powerlessness and weakness, and the only response is to shrink back in inadequacy. We must instead look to the all-sufficient Christ and His Spirit as our ever-present help. Our spiritual poverty teaches us to depend upon the true Grower and to wait on Him to do the growing in His time. When we look at Him, instead of counting our disappointments and worries, we can instead celebrate the marks of His faithfulness we’ve seen along the way, however small, and see by faith how He will be faithful in the future.
Church planting wife, whatever challenge you face today, let your griefs and your disenchantment with this world turn your face to the One who sees, the One who promises you will reap from what you’ve sown if you don’t give up (Galatians 6:9), the One who is preparing you a true home. Turn your face to the One who is worthy of all your labor costs you. He is pleased by your faith.