October 21, 2013

On Raising Churches and Babies

When people ask if we're going to have more children, I always say that our church is our fourth child. We birthed it when our sons were 5, 2, and 6 months old, and it really did feel like we delivered another child. A tiring, up-all-night kind-of-child.

Everyone told us we would feel this way, that planting a church is like giving birth to a baby, but hardly anyone told us that the baby would have to grow up and that we would be the ones to see it through the sleepless nights, the terrible twos, and the perils of puberty. Our fourth child is only 5 so we wouldn't know about puberty yet, although we've experienced a transition this fall that has felt awkward and emotional, so perhaps we're proudly now a tween.
When we birthed this church, because no one told us to focus more on the parenting than the birth, I was taken aback by the extent of the work. I figured 1-2 years max and we'd be off to the races, enjoying the fruit of our labor, reveling in a fully-formed church. A two-year-old can barely talk, however, and she is likely not potty-trained. I know that's a weird analogy to use regarding the church, but it gives a picture of the messiness and the grueling work involved. There was a point where it hit me: This child has to be raised and that's going to take years. Church planting is for the long haul and there's no way around it.

In a church plant, everything starts from ground up. Like a child, each new stage of development is a new start, with its own fresh challenges and unique needs. I admit this is disheartening at times. A few Sundays ago, I looked around at church and huffed at God, "This isn't what I imagined it would be when I signed on the dotted line with You." I hadn't imagined it would be such an extensive commitment, and I hadn't imagined the church makeup that we currently have. The Lord quickly responded, clearly and firmly: "Yes, but this is the church I have built."

I knew what He was saying, and it stung in a good way. Church planting isn't about me; It never has been and never will be. God will not condescend to my idea of what our church should be, which is oftentimes centered around my own comfort and desires. I've experienced this same humbling in parenting. The children God gave me are so different than what I imagined, but isn't this His good plan? The questions, then, are not, "How will they reflect on me?" or "How will they serve me?" but simply "Will I be faithful to shepherd them well?"

I knew what else He was reminding me of: This church hasn't been our doing. Just as with our physical children, we gave birth to something God knit together, and we are stewards of the gospel as we raise this church-child God has given us. Yes, there were a precious few in the delivery room who have been with this child since the beginning, and, yes, this means we care about this baby more than anyone else. But it is not ours. We are but stewards.

When I began mulling over the thoughts in this post, I had two audiences in mind. The first are those contemplating church planting. To you, I simply ask you to count the cost. Are you willing not only to birth a child but to do the hard work of raising that child? Because church planting is only cool from the outside, and it's not going to be about you anyway.

The second audience is those doing the day-in, day-out work of raising a child who is different than you imagined, whether the church plant kind or the living breathing kind. And, really, aren't they all different than what we imagined? Maybe your baby isn't growing or maybe she's in an awkward phase or maybe you don't even know if what you've poured yourself into is going to mean anything in the end. To you I say this: What is it that matters? It's faith and the faithfulness that results from that faith. There's nothing cool about that, nothing that will make you a Christian celebrity or Mom of the Year. But it's what enables you to scream forth a baby in the delivery room and raise that baby into a fully-functioning mature adult.

Faith is what matters.