On March 27, 2022, our new church began. It took 10 years.
In 2012, I began exploring church planting after my pastors’ prodding. I had only been a Christian for a handful of years and, by God’s grace, the evangelistic zeal of a new believer had stuck. Having spent my entire life in post-Christian Massachusetts, I was no stranger to the need for healthy, gospel-proclaiming, disciple-making churches and was eager to see more. Local guy. Evangelistic zeal. Big-time need. Willing heart. It seemed the ideal recipe for church planting. Shouldn’t be long now, right?
Amid several setback, it took 10 years.
I made progress toward planting on four different occasions. They all ended with a thud. The first time, the blame obviously fell on my mistakes and immaturity. During the second and third times, some lessons were learned and things started to come together. I was excited about the people interested and considered myself ready for the work. Zeal for the glory of Christ in southeastern Massachusetts had reached a boiling point. Here we go!
The door of God’s unexpected providence, however, slammed shut.
During the fourth attempt, even more was in place. That made it especially difficult when, once again, we had to stop short. I assumed that meant God’s Ephesians 2:10 plans for me did not include church planting. After all, hadn’t I dragged my family through enough? I suppose this was just a well-intentioned dream. Hadn’t I just been too stubborn to accept the truth a few setbacks ago? Am I too immature to be content in my current pastoral role? Best to not try again.
Shockingly, as these thoughts raced through my head, a friend’s church in my neck of the woods approached me with a church-planting residency position. They suggested I serve at their church for two years while working to plant a church in the same area where I had lived the past 12 years – and my entire Christian life. Two years later, on March 27, 2022 – having outlasted many delays, setbacks and a pandemic – the members of Immanuel Church of Weymouth agreed, before the Lord, to covenant together as church. It took 10 years. On that day, I was so thankful for each one of them.
If God has hit your pause button again, don’t lose heart. It may not be His way of rejecting your aspirations to serve Him but His way of preparing you to serve Him in the future. If you can suffer a little alliteration, here are four benefits you may gain through times of waiting, setbacks and disappointments.
Pastoral ministry is often death by a million cuts. In church planting and revitalization, those lacerations can come early and often. However, each cut is a stroke of providence for our sanctification. This happens “to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Cor. 1:9). We must embrace this as coming from God’s wise hand of providence and mediated through His unique love for under-shepherds. The treatment plan may be hard, but it has been designed by an all-knowing and wise physician for the cure of your soul and the good of your ministry. Learning and relearning this will provide you with comfort and strength when things get hard.
The Lord may also strengthen your perseverance muscles during times of setbacks and disappointments. Looking back, I wasn’t strong enough to bench-press the bar when I first aspired to church planting. Today my perseverance muscles are stronger, by God’s grace, because of those 10 years. Our Father knows His children and wisely and slowly strengthens our perseverance muscles in the pressure of real life. Muscles do not grow unless they are met with resistance. Neither does our ability to persevere joyfully in church planting and pastoral ministry.
Having to persevere also has other benefits. As you experience setbacks and disappointments, you will start to develop pastoral “street smarts.” You begin to see the dangers in going a certain direction. You learn how to read situations and people. Real life has stripped away some naivete and immature optimism, two often-unseen weak spots in many church-planter types. Persevering through setbacks and disappointments teaches us that often even good plans do not work out, but God remains good and wise.
You also may gain patience during times of setbacks and disappointments. Read through the pastoral epistles and make note of each time Paul mentions patience. He keeps hammering on that nail. He wants to drive the importance of it deep into the hearts of those younger pastors. We need it down deep too. Church planting takes time. Disciple-making is arduous and slow. Biblical culture grows slowly in churches. Everything seems to take twice as long in church planting. You need patience to endure. You need patience to do it with a shrug and smile. God knows what He’s doing, after all.
Also, impatience can hide behind the mask of missional zeal. We may not even know we are wearing that mask. This should be a warning sign for aspiring church planters. Your missional zeal probably is not as pure as you think. The heart deceives (Jer. 17:9). In long periods of waiting, God does double duty. He reveals our impatience to us, which can feel like walking over hot coals, and grows us in patience. A patient pastor isn’t a quitter. A patient pastor isn’t a whiner. A patient pastor is Christ-like. People want to serve alongside someone like that.
Finally, during the times of setbacks and waiting, you may gain relationships. I am beyond grateful that I get to serve Jesus alongside the members of Immanuel Church. None of them would be there if I had planted when I wanted to. I had the privilege of pastoring many of them in other churches over those 10 years. Christian friendships were able to form. Trust developed. Mistakes were made and forgiven. You will want to go into church planting with those kinds of relationships.
For those who are aspiring and waiting, don’t lose heart. Embrace God’s providence as coming from a wise Father. Use your time of waiting to grow in patience. Trust that the Lord is teaching you how to persevere. Keep loving people for the glory of God. If you do ever end up planting a church, you will not regret the time spent growing in these graces and relationships.
Published August 1, 2022