November 15, 2011

For When Life Feels Wobbly

My friend Amy found me at church on Sunday and, with a grin on her face, declared that she had turned a corner. Two years ago, Amy and her husband Phil left suburbia and stable work in order to farm an uncultivated land. These years have involved clearing land, plowing, planting, and learning the delicate art of farming. Lots and lots of learning, often by failure. Because our callings--farming and church planting--have such striking similarities, we have often commiserated together.

"Didn't you say that the two-year mark was a turning point for you?" she asked.

I nodded, remembering how something clicked in my heart after two long years of church planting. Fewer days of discouragement and despair and more days of gratefulness, reaping, and feeling at home in our community.

I think of those first two years every time I play Scooby Doo with my kids. The game is basically Jenga  where Shaggy, holding Scooby, sits on top of a brick wall. With fear on their faces, Shaggy and Scooby try to hold on while my kids poke bricks out one-by-one from beneath them. At an upredictable moment, the whole wall falls and the game is over. Shaggy and Scooby lie in rubble and no amount of Scooby Snacks can save them.

That's what the beginning stages of church planting feels like, where everything in life hangs in the balance. Will the church make it? What happens if it doesn't? Are we completely insane? Can God be trusted? What is our Plan B? Should we have a Plan B?

My husband and I spent many sleepless nights trying to concretely answer those questions, but in the end, all we had was either faith or flailing despair. Sadly, I often chose despair.

Looking back, I realize that those days of despair were really withdrawals. All of my life, I had depended on myself, controlled circumstances (or at least tried), and avoided any ministry outside what I was comfortable with. I also had always had a people buffer: people to lead, people to disciple, people to encourage me or validate my ministry. But like a soul tsunami, church planting completely and swiftly wiped out all my self-made security. For perhaps the very first time, I had an opportunity to believe God and to live from faith. 

In response to discouragement, I sometimes attacked life with buckets of faith fueling me, so sure God would come through. Sometimes, though, I reverted back to my fleshly responses, trying to stabilize myself or search for some concrete guarantee that everything would work out.

Slowly, the withdrawals from self-sustenance became less and less and I learned needy, child-like dependence. I learned to embrace the feeling of sitting on top of the brick wall, knowing that I am forced to trust God in that position.

I wish I could say that it gets easier, but the days of discouragement still come, even in our fourth year. There still aren't any guarantees that things will work out how I think they should or how I want them to. An important brick could be poked out and then what?

Circumstancially, things are looking good. But there are still lots of opportunities for me to worry or to despair. In fact, my worries are more detailed and they involve much more emotional investment than at the beginning of church planting.

I don't care who you are or what kind of church planting work you're doing or what is going on with your church, you will face the decision daily: faith or fear? Dependence or Independence? In fact, those are questions for all believers seeking to live a life of faith, church planting or not: to believe that God has good coming in a painful situation, to give sacrificially, to start a business as a platform for the gospel. Everything hangs in the balance and things feel a little wobbly all the time.

But that is where we meet Christ. He's not in our independence and control and plan B's. In all the uncertainty and instability, we don't have to despair for He holds all things together, even when a brick falls:
For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16-17)
We choose faith.