I'm honored to welcome Shari Thomas as a guest blogger today. Shari has been at the forefront of helping and assessing church planting spouses.
“Is it always this hard?”
A church plant in our city had steadily been growing when a key leader became sexually involved with others in the church, covertly seducing new believers into a questionable life style. When the story came to light, too many were already involved. Sides were taken. The church closed. When my husband and I met with the planting couple, they were heartbroken. One of the first questions we were asked, “Is it always this hard to plant a church?” Obviously we will each face different hardships in ministry and in life in general but my answer is “Yes, it’s this hard!”
The following Sunday I was greatly encouraged by several points from Tim Keller’s sermon on the early church’s response to suffering in Acts 4:24. The points are his. The explanations, mine.
A sign of a real Christian is that we continue to serve God especially in suffering.
If we are only serving God for what we get out of it then we are just in it for the benefits. We know we’ve fallen into this category when we bring a list before God of what we have ‘sacrificed for’ him. Or we inwardly think we deserve better treatment because, after all, we are God’s servants.
Serving God in suffering doesn’t mean we aren’t bothered by what is happening or that we don’t wrestle with God about it.
What it does mean is that we still turn to him, like Job. We take our wrestling, our anger, our questions and our sorrow to him. One of the best practices I learned in church planting was about true worship. Worship entails the real me engaging with the real God. I learned I could take my doubts, my unbelief, my rages and all my emotions to God. I could set my case before him. I could wait for him to meet me.
We acknowledge that a sovereign God has allowed the suffering.
In Acts 4:28 the Christians say that God allowed what had occurred. They knew that nothing had happened that was outside of his control. They respond to God in what is happening rather than asking to be taken out of it. Yes, there are more times than I care to admit that I’ve asked God to take me out of the suffering.
We become unshakable.
The place where the early church is meeting begins to shake, but they had become unshakable (vs 31). How so? Matthew 27 and 28 talk about two quakes, one when Jesus died and the second when he was raised from the dead. Jesus was and is the One shaken on our behalf!
Ultimately, we don’t have to be shaken by what is befalling us. Notice I use the word, ultimately. Typically, our first response is one of fear. (If God were not aware of how fearful we are, he wouldn’t address the topic so much in scripture.) Fear is part of being human. However, it doesn’t have to stop there. If we remember that he is sovereign, our worry begins to dissipate.
After much prayer and counsel, the couple I referred to earlier, decided to continue serving God by replanting their church. I’ve had the privilege of walking alongside the planter’s wife in this journey. I’ve noticed something amazing occurring: She is becoming unshakable!
Shari and her husband, John, have partnered in church planting both nationally and internationally since the early 1980's. She conducted research on the stress and satisfaction levels of church planting spouses in the U.S., developed the Church Leader Spouse Inventory used in many church planting assessments, and in 2005 founded Parakaleo, www.parakaleo.us, a ministry that provides coaching, training, and network development for spouses in church planting. She has a passion to see families thrive in the ambiguous and often turbulent life of ministry She is known among her family and friends for her piercing transparency, speaking before thinking, and enjoying life to the fullest with her husband and three kids. She resides with her husband in Manhattan, NY.