Recently, I’ve been realizing that planting a church has been causing me to have some serious struggles with my faith in God. Planting a church pushes you into a situation of total dependence on God. For many pastors there is a struggle against always seeking to control and stabilize their churches. For me as a church planter, I’ve felt as if I have almost no stability. I’m not sure if we’ll have 40 or 10 people worshiping with us on any given Sunday. Our offerings have been fifteen hundred dollars and twenty bucks (no joke). For some folks in our congregation there might every once in a while be a low humming question, “Are we doing ok?” As the pastor, where providing for my family is bound into our church, I don’t hear a low humming question, I hear a roar bellowing in my head, “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?” On a monthly basis, I ask myself, “Have I made the wrong decision?”; “Should I apply at Starbucks or get my design portfolio spiffed up?” “What am I doing wrong?” Even deeper in my soul I’ve been asking “Should I trust that God will care for us?”
As I walked to work this morning I listened to a very encouraging sermon from Martin Ban. He talked about doubts being a normal part of our faith, and our doubts revealing the idols of our heart. All over the Bible there are examples of God’s people questioning their beliefs, and struggling with their faith in the middle of situations that they weren’t expecting. My answer to the roar isn’t bold or exciting, my answer is, “I’m doing what I think God wants me to be doing, I’m trying to help bring together a new church.” I’m not sure what’s going to happen, and I know that I’m making a ton of mistakes, but as far as I can tell I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.” I answer the depth of my soul with others questions, “Why shouldn’t I trust that God will care for us? When has God not provided for me?”
I’ve gotten up and preached to folks that God works with us regardless of the quality of our faith; that it’s ok to be honest about doubts and fears, but I think I’m finally starting to believe it.
All this leads me to think that we need to debunk the myth of the hero church planter, and the Hero pastor, as well. They don’t exist. Churches are not formed out of the slick vision and winsome rhetoric of their pastors, but by the mercy of God. We shouldn’t expect them to show up and we shouldn’t be disappointed when we find that we aren’t those heroes. The only hero the church has and needs is Jesus Christ. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t called to work with God to start stuff.
I sometimes feel that some folks expected me to lock myself in my basement for a few weeks and emerge with this radical invention, a new church which automagically grows, and connects, and makes people feel good. All you have to do is show up, put in your quarter and watch the magic happen. This just isn’t true. The local church is not owned by the pastor or planter. And leaders can encourage and even prod people to work and care but the church is what you make it.
As a pastor and planter I can’t just invent the perfect church, or by force of will make it happen. Because, when I try, and I have been trying for the last 14 months now, I end up wanting a church with my stamp on it more than I want a relationship with the God I’m preaching about. I end up finding my acceptance—in the world and before God—in my church, and for me that has meant that for the last 14 months I’ve been unacceptable.
I’m not quite sure what will happen with our particular church plant, and I’m sure that people will tell me that it’s stupid to say that publicly. I want to see it thrive and grow, and I want to see folks realize how much they need grace, and at the same time realize how much grace God has waiting for them. But I can’t keep pretending like I never struggle with doubts in my soul, and I can’t keep making Grace and Peace my identity. Christ is my identity and if Grace and Peace is going to be a church its going to be because God in his mercy was working through many people.