July 6, 2011

God Speaks Through Wikipedia (Our Calling to Church Plant)

I've been feeling quite sentimental lately as we approach our three-year anniversary in Virginia as church planters. I have been reflecting on our initial calling to Charlottesville, our burst from the starting gates, and the ensuing years of hard, hard work. With a full heart, I have pictured the faces of people who have become dear to me, people who have supported our work, and people who have toiled alongside us. All the people we have encountered and all the experiences we have had can be summarized in one short sentence: God is good and He is faithful. I know because I've experienced it first-hand.

So today and in the next few posts I want to share a bit of our church planting story. Perhaps it will encourage you wherever you are in the process of church planting. And if you're not church planting, perhaps it will serve as a reminder of God's faithfulness.

Our Calling
We knew we were supposed to plant a church before we knew where. We felt certain about this calling because over a period of time my husband I both felt an atypical unrest about where we were in life.  Everywhere we turned, we heard sermons or talks about the church; God seemed to urge us to expand our horizons regarding the local and global church. At the same time, different and unconnected individuals with experience in church planting encouraged Kyle to consider church planting. We attended an Acts 29 Boot Camp, at which we heard Mark Driscoll talk about The Man God often uses to plant and lead a church. When I heard him describe my husband, I felt a little fear rise up in me. Perhaps God was really up to something. Surely He was going to use my husband, but I doubted whether He could use me.

But Where?
That weekend, Kyle and I talked for hours, sensing God's hand directing our steps. A few weeks later, we took a personal retreat. We spent that time talking together and asking God for confirmation that He was indeed calling us to plant a church. And when He did, we talked about tentative places where He might be calling us. We had no idea and no leading, but we left the weekend assured of our general calling.

Over the few months we prayed. Alot. Over and over, we questioned how we were supposed to know where God was calling us to plant a church. Over and over, we prayed. And waited. And worried. And prayed some more.

Wise counselors suggested that we consider where we would enjoy raising our family, where there are needs, and where the needs of the city match our passions and gifts. Using those suggestions, we easily narrowed down our criteria. We wanted to plant a church outside of the Bible belt, in a college town with an influential university, in a mid-size city close to metropolitan areas, and in an area where we could reach college students, young people, and growing families. With that in mind, we pinpointed college towns on a map of the United States, which we hung on our bathroom mirror and prayed over daily.

God Speaks Through Wikipedia
Just after Christmas in 2007, as we drove home from visiting family, our conversation again turned to the wheres and hows of this crazy church planting idea stuck in our heads. As we listed universities and college towns, we mulled each one, hoping for some flash of inspiration or intrigue. Virginia Tech popped to mind and then a question: "Where is the University of Virginia?"

When we got home, I googled it, found the answer, and then went straight to Wikipedia to research this Charlottesville place I knew nothing about. We looked at the pictures, read about UVA, and went to bed.

The next day, Kyle came home from work and, as we sat down for dinner, said, "I can't stop thinking about Charlottesville." All day, I had been thinking about the pictures I'd seen and the words I had read about the city, but I had also thought about how crazy it was to think God would call us to a city through Wikipedia. "Funny," I said, "I can't stop thinking about it either."

We decided that Kyle would call the convention we're a part of just so we could get the crazy idea out of our heads and move on. But when he did, the guy said, "We've been praying for two years that a young couple would move here to plant a church reaching UVA students and young people." Well, as you can imagine, that stopped us in our tracks. They invited us to visit Charlottesville, which we did, and immediately fell in love with the place.

As our plane lifted off to take us out of Virginia a few days later, I vividly remember thinking that we were leaving our home.

Are We Sure?
When we got home, however, we began to count the cost. Were we absolutely sure? I had just given birth to our third child. We needed to be sure before we left a stable income and moved our children across the country, far away from extended family. Of course, the element of faith in church planting takes away the for sures, but God was gracious to give us several confirmations that couldn't be ignored.

When we started recruiting people to go with us as a core team, one of our students told us that two students who had been leaders in our ministry before graduating, marrying, and moving away were moving to Charlottesville for a job. What?! I couldn't believe my ears.

Second, Kyle and his best friend Bill, a youth minister in Ft. Worth, had always talked about doing ministry together. Before we knew the location, Kyle told Bill about our plans and asked him to consider doing it with us. Bill was hesitant, but continued praying about it. When we settled on Charlottesville, Kyle called Bill and told him where we were going, pressing him to join us. Bill grew silent. Then: "Charlottesville, Virginia? You've got to be kidding me." He went on to tell Kyle that he had toured tons of colleges with his parents during high school. One of the schools was UVA and he had loved Charlottesville so much that he had jokingly talked with his buddies during college about starting a church in the city someday. Somehow Kyle had never been in on those conversations. Bill couldn't shake the coincidence, prayed about it, and soon signed on to go.

Wow, that turned out to be a long story. The point: how did God call you? How did He confirm it to you? I love reflecting on those things because I so often have my head down, plowing along, looking at the minute details that I forget the big picture of God's faithfulness and provision.

I hope you'll remember His faithfulness to you today. He can encourage you like no one or nothing else.