September 17, 2014

A Love Letter to My Church (and to Church Planting)

A woman who recently finished reading The Church Planting Wife wrote to tell me she and her husband are moving across the country soon to plant a church. In my response, I said, "Although church planting is one of the most challenging things I've ever been a part of, it has also been my greatest joy!" I never want to sugar-coat church planting--it's challenging, it's hard work, and it will refine you at the very core of who you are. But I also never want to play down the overwhelming joys of having seen it through, especially those first tough years.
This Sunday, our church will turn six years old. On September 21, 2008, ten of us gathered in our living room (five of us carrying the Hoover last name, only one of us a Virginian), where we ate a few brownies, sang a few songs, and opened up the Scriptures. A year later, we had 31 people and a new location for our gatherings, and I felt as if I'd been through an internal war of flesh and fear wrestling against an emerging faith.

On Sunday, we'll gather hundreds strong, and we'll sing loud and clap our hands, and an elder will teach us from Ephesians, and we'll stay after to talk and love, and I'm typing this through tears. How did this happen? When did this become my life? Though the challenges never stop and the responsibility only grows and I'm still not certain I'm good at this church planting thing, I would never give it up, not in a million years. Because I wonder if I ever saw God like this before. I wonder if I had ever walked in faith before this. 

And I'm not talking about God being good because of numbers and the fact that we're still around six years later. I'm talking about the eyes of my heart being opened to things only faith can see. I'm talking about God's bittersweet refinement and discipline. I'm talking about learning to place my security in Christ alone.

But mostly I'm talking about watching God at work in His church.

By calling us into church planting, God pulled out a chair for me in a prime viewing location and continually says, "Watch this!" as He displays His manifest wisdom right before my eyes. I love these people, and I love how He uses us and moves among us.

From where I sit, I see housemates walking with their sister through grief, offering truth and hope all the while. I see young professionals seeking to glorify God in their workplaces. I see pastors and elders working tirelessly and faithfully to equip the saints for ministry and rightly divide the word of truth. I see college students serving sacrificially for the edification of families. I see families serving sacrificially for the edification of college students. I see women eager to disciple younger women in the faith. I see a worship leader who writes songs that teach and give voice to faith in real life. I see children growing up together, coming to faith, and learning to love. I see two who have been with us from the beginning, one of whom gets little public credit for how she's sacrificed but who has been so essential to our church. I see faithful efforts to reach neighbors and co-workers. I see marriages healed. I see people walking in their gifts. I see those with an eye toward the outsider. I see couples caring for the orphan the name of Jesus. Even among the darkness and brokenness of life, I see reconciliation and hope and community and joy.

And I see a pastor's wife who is happy beyond measure. I love these people. And I love the God who has nourished us.

Of course, there are other things that I pray to see and believe I'll see in time. This is real life and real church, after all. And, as you read this, you may be tempted to think about me, or my husband, or our specific church and what we have or haven't done to make this happen.

But that's just the point: six years ago, this group of people as a moving whole did not exist. We exist because God called us into being. And in these six years, the things that we've seen have only been God's doing. I haven't changed a single heart and neither has my husband. We haven't authored faith or reconciled people, and we certainly haven't been the spark and motivation for sacrificial service.

So this six-year mark isn't a moment that I celebrate myself or my husband or any person's work. This is a moment that makes me tear up because I've seen the goodness of God in the land of the living.

I love these people, I love this church, and I love our God.