After describing the difficulties of the first two years of church planting, I know what you want me to say about the third, especially if you are still in the first or the second: that it's all flowers and rainbows and ponies.
I realized today that I have been putting off this post on our third year because I couldn't say that despite how much I want to. After all, I hoped for this to be an encouraging month of posts. Perhaps encouragement comes not just in relaying the good, but also the challenges.
In the spring, I visited with another church planting wife that I hadn't seen in a year. When she asked me to summarize our year, I said, "Stressful, emotionally difficult, and painful."
"Let me guess," she said, "Your third year?"
There have been a myriad of wonderful things we've seen God do this year in our church. We've grown spiritually and numerically. We've earned respect and credibility in our community through service and outreach. Discipleship is a growing part of the DNA of our people. Community is being knit. The people we so love are leading, serving, sharing Christ, and practicing hospitality. It's happening. What we hoped for and dreamed of and prayed about it--it's happening. God is faithful. We have rejoiced over all these developments throughout the year.
Just as we have rejoiced, however, we have also grieved.
For now-- for now--we have lost the fellowship of a beloved one who has chosen to leave us for lesser things. A hole (and an empty seat) remains because of our beloved one, who was with us from the beginning. The hole, like a cloud, hangs heavy with sorrow over everything. Among us, our hearts plead, even in worship, for redemption and restoration.
Through lies and sin, the Enemy has taken one. (And one so dear!) Will he take others?
In this third year, as we have built relationships and earned the right to speak into lives, people have revealed themselves more intimately to us. They have shown us their struggle, their temptation, and their shame. We have shown ours as well. It's been hard because I expect life (and church) to be all rainbows, ponies, and flowers.
But this is what community is. What church is. Sin and its effects are a reality for churches everywhere. We are all sinners, weak and prone to wander, gathering together around the cross to lap up grace. Together and imperfect, we cling to Jesus and await His return.
Personally, this year, there has been sadness because I love the wayward one deeply. There has been grief because sin still lives, despite the ultimate victory. There has been pain because it feels personal and makes me question if what we're doing is worth it. But it has also solidified my resolve against sin in my life and in others' lives. My commitment to the Lord and to His calling on my life has not waned.
Though none go with me, I still will follow.
No turning back.
No turning back.