Church planters have the most difficult job in ministry. They uproot their families, move to a place of spiritual need and figure out a way to gather people into a congregation. All while wrestling with logistical problems, financial need and the immature behavior that always goes with new believers. What they do isn’t for the faint of heart.
My wife and I were on the west coast earlier this week and saw what I’m talking about first hand.
The picture at the top is of Pam and me and two church planting families that our church sent out in the last 18 months. Pam and I are on the left. On the far right are Kevin and Jennifer. Trevor and Jessica are in the middle. The two couples have seven young children between them. Both families are serious followers of Jesus. And over the last several years have been on a spiritual journey that led them to leave their old lives behind, move to Portland, Oregon and plant a new church.
You can tell they’re prepared to do ministry in that particular city because both guys have beards and are wearing flannel shirts and at least one of the ladies got a tattoo as soon as she arrived there. Missionaries would call this contextualizing the gospel.
Nobody said church planting was easy
Nobody said church planting was easy. Kevin and Jennifer spent a year or so in raising money, making preparations and building the kinds of relationships in and around our church that will provide a base of spiritual and emotional support for their new ministry. In the summer of 2017 they sold their house, loaded up their van and set off. They landed in a neighborhood on the east side of the city and jumped right into their ministry. They met people, began connecting with local schools and businesses and started making the long-term effort necessary to introduce the gospel of Jesus into a new place.
Things have gone well for them and to date they’ve gathered a group of about 40 people that meets together weekly in a rented facility.
Last year, Jessica and Trevor began walking the same road. They grew more and more convinced that their life purpose was to move in the same direction as had their friends Kevin and Jennifer. So they resigned their jobs (Jessica worked on our church staff), sold their house and, like the family before them, made the 2500-mile trip to Portland. They’re now in the process of settling in, finding jobs and reaching out to their community.
Why do church planters do it? A sense of call, of course. No one would take on this level of challenge without a personal word from God. They’re also confident in the divine provisions promised to those who step out in faith to serve the Kingdom. Some (maybe many) are restless with established church life and yearn to minister in a setting less encumbered with old religious traditions. Call it a desire for new wineskins.
Church planters do what they do because they’re looking for a costly faith
But I think there ‘s another reason, a trait shared by many church planters I’ve met that’s underreported and under-appreciated. A drive that needs to be grasped not just so that we can better understand what motivates them but also so that we can grasp what motivates the rest of us, even if we’re too oblivious to our own spirits to recognize it or too oblivious to the Holy Spirit to admit it. Church planters do what they do because they’re looking for a costly faith.
I don’t think it’s an accident that both couples are from the Millennial generation.
Millennials get a lot of attention today because the institutionalized church is having such trouble reaching them. I blogged previously about ministry to this generation here and here. Despite the popular belief that their generation is too secularized to embrace biblical teaching, the truth is that they’ve seen first hand the darkness of modern culture and yearn for something more substantial and pure. The traditional church isn’t successfully reaching them because we’ve gotten so bogged down in programmatic approaches to ministry that we’ve lost sight of their basic spiritual hunger. They’re starving for red meat and we’ve offered them a bologna sandwich.
A religion not worth sacrificing for isn’t worth believing
In Luke 9:23 Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” He puts the matter of belief not so much in terms of rational assent to doctrine as to our willingness to sacrifice our lives for his sake. Missionary martyr Jim Eliot puts the same truth this way: “That man is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose.”
When you drill down into the motivation of the two families in Portland, you find they believe the same thing. A religion not worth sacrificing for isn’t worth believing.