A week or so ago, Facebook reminded me that it’s been two years since City Church took its first members. The photo was there in color, and as I looked through it I thought things like, “Oh, Eve was so small! Emily and Kyle only had one baby. Will woke up late and his hair was hilarious. Eliza was hiding behind my legs.”
I took a minute to let it all soak in, and thought about my friend who recently asked about how church was going. I told her that we were encouraged, still adjusting to NOT feeling like we’re in crisis mode, and that we’re hoping to be organized (meaning, we’d be self-funded and have our own leadership) by the end of the year. I said it so casually that it made me realize how much has shifted inside when it comes to what success looks like in church planting.
For so long, I was holding my breath for organization. I was unhappy with the vulnerability and stress that came with being a church plant and in my eyes, that would dissipate when we became an official church, rather than a plant, or mission. Our plant would be a success.
But like I’ve written about before, God used a season of pretty intense anger to wrestle me into a deeper reliance on him. Last week at bible study we were talking about the life of Jacob and as we talked about Jacob wrestling with God in Genesis 32, I kept thinking about my own wrestling match.
Jacob’s name means twister, or deceiver. He spends a huge amount of his life focused on the stuff of God – his family blessing, which he takes for himself although God has already promised it would be his, his brother’s birthright, etc. For a good portion of his life, he’s an example of someone who sees God as a vending machine rather than a loving Father.
But then there’s this scene where Jacob is about to go home, which includes reconciling with his twin brother (the one he cheated not once, but twice). He sends messengers ahead and they report that his brother has 400 men with him. An army, basically. Jacob prays the longest prayer in Genesis (shoutout to Dr. Sinclair Ferguson for that), and you can hear the turning in his heart. Jacob sends exorbitant gifts ahead to Esau, returning the birthright he stole in Chapter 25, essentially. He sleeps alone in the wilderness, having sent his family another way. Can you imagine the weight that must have been on his shoulders? Not knowing how Esau would respond, but knowing for sure that Esau and his people could wipe Jacob and his family out if they wanted to.
Instead of sleeping, Jacob ends up wrestling all night with a being that turns out to be God. I’d never read the story this way, but Nancy Guthrie talks about how this is one of the first places we see Jacob actually begging God for GOD, not for the stuff. With one simple touch, God puts Jacob’s hip out of socket because he knows that it is worth his hip to have Jacob’s heart. God says morning is coming, and both of them know that anyone who sees the face of God will die. But Jacob clings to him anyway, showing he believes death would be better than separation from God. Jacob’s heart is now for God, crying out to Him for Him, recognizing that only the greater can bless the lesser. God blesses Jacob and renames him Israel, but he walks with a limp from that night forward – a daily reminder that we rely on God and he himself is the reward.
I relate to this story so much because I know I spent a lot of time focused on the stuff of church planting rather than the God we were there to worship. God brought me to my own emotional, spiritual wilderness and he wrestled me out of my desire for comfort and safety in things like numbers, budgets, and organization. He made me face the potential of real, public failure. There’s part of me that still feels so tender about those months. In a way, I walk with my own limp.
I wouldn’t trade the uncertainty and the wrestling for a smoother ride. God worked to dismantle my expectations and reorient my heart to be focused on HIM, not the stuff, even the good, biblical, holy stuff like a thriving church plant.
For years, Duff has been saying that the success of church planting is in the faithfulness. For a while that felt like a nice bandaid, something only church plants that are likely to fail would say. But now I know it’s true. We will probably organize this year, but that’s not what makes us successful. The success of my experience as a church planter’s wife lies in my reliance on God, and the faithfulness he draws me into despite our circumstances.
If you’re a church planter or pastor’s wife, a member of a small church, or working toward a church revitalization, be sure to subscribe to my posts! I’ve got more church planting/ministry life posts coming up and I’d love to spread the word. Y’all have been my biggest encouragers in this so far and I’m grateful!