September 21, 2018

A New Starting Line

Here I raise my Ebenezer
Here by Thy great help I've come.

We came. 

We came with our car stacked deep, our six month-old strapped in his car seat, our two year-old freshly potty-trained, and our five year-old already registered for kindergarten in the school near our new neighborhood.

We unloaded over the next few days, and after the last box was unpacked, I sat on our bed, feeling a mixture of homesickness and uncertainty, and wondered what we were supposed to do next. We came to start a church, at the clarion beckoning of God no less, and just how does one do that exactly? We'd read the books, we'd raised the money, we'd cast the vision, but no amount of planning can prepare you for the moment you're sitting on your bed in a new city wondering what to do first.

We went.

That's what we did first and second and for many days after that. We went to meet our neighbors, who looked at us like we were aliens when we explained why we'd come. We went to community gatherings and neighborhood meetings and school functions and anywhere the door was open. We talked to everyone who even glanced our way, whether at the park or the Chick-fil-a playground or the kids' schools. We knocked on doors, and we asked if we could serve.

We asked them to come.

We invited the people we were meeting to our home for Bible study. Few came. But to those who did, we said we were starting a church, and when we envisioned out loud what it could become, it seemed almost laughable to say those things, as if we were children playing pretend. But we kept meeting, we kept forming relationships in the community, and we kept saying those things that sounded laughable even to us: we're growing a church here. 

We went under. 

Prior to coming, church planting appeared fairly glamorous in my head. I knew it would be difficult, sure, but I didn't think the difficultly would last long. The reality of the work, however, toppled me much like a wave takes down an unsuspecting beach stroller.

We cried, doubted the call in the first place, looked for a way out, despaired. We learned quickly that there are no guarantees except God's presence, and that no amount of human effort can change a soul. We learned we were not capable in and of ourselves to do what God had asked of us, and for some reason this felt to me like complete failure.

We were raised new.

We had nothing left. All that we'd relied on before--crutches of self-sufficiency, structure, and security--were rendered powerless. And that's precisely when we realized church planting hadn't been merely God's call for us to go but also God's call for us to grow. Faith had been a concept; now faith meant getting out of bed in the morning, continuing.

We found God to be solid in the uncertainty, the insecurity, in the daily doubts. We found he is a God who not only calls but helps, meets, provides, empowers, transforms, and gardens. We found partnership in those who'd come with us and those who linked their arms with ours as we continued forward together. It felt as if we'd been born again, awakened to a new understanding of God and what he can do in and through those who trust him.

We've come this far.

Today marks 10 years since we first opened our front door, sat around our living room, and invited others to play pretend with us for a moment. Ten years later, the vision has become a reality. Our church isn't perfect by any means, but we love it, and God is with us and forming us.

I've looked around on Sunday mornings recently at these people that I love and it feels like a dream, like someone else ushered this from start to today. And it's true, Someone did. We did not do this. I cannot emphasize this enough. We very much just came along for the ride. God asked us to get out of bed each morning, and we kept saying yes.

Today marks a finish line of sorts. We're certainly not done here, but today we stop running for a moment to celebrate and to remember God's faithfulness. We raise our Ebenezer and remember that by his great help we've come. Friends, turn and see with me how good our God is!

I look back and remember how we got here, because we're at a new starting line: another 10 years stretches before us. The tears haven't stopped. The doubting hasn't completely faded. The heartache and the homesickness haven't eased. The work hasn't gotten any easier, and I still fight the temptation to forget God so I might rely on myself.

But I now know my God. I know he is real and faithful, and I've learned this primarily through the difficulty of church planting. So I won't stop. God still asks me to say yes everyday, to keep coming to this place where I've lived for 10 years and to keep going as well, and we will.

Because God goes before us.