Weary Wings

Monday, August 6, 2012

On Being a Part of a Church Plant

              About four or so years ago James started listening to sermon podcasts while he was on the road. He spends a lot of time driving and he found that the time he spent alone in his truck was redeemed when he used it to fill his mind with God’s word. He listened to Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, Darrin Patrick, Tim Keller and many others, most of whom were at churches that are part of the Acts 29 Network. This led to him listening to the podcasts that were available on the Acts 29 site, many of which were about their efforts to promote church planting.
                This put in James a desire to either plant a church himself, or be a part of a church plant. Statistically, planting new churches is the number one way to reach the lost in America and as James learned more, his desire grew and in the meantime we were led to Clear Creek Community Church just as they were in the process of joining the Acts 29 Network. We had been searching for a church to call home since we got married and we were finally where we knew God wanted us.  We were excited to be a part of a church that was doing everything it knew how to proclaim the Gospel to the lost. We found a place to serve, joined a small group, even eventually leading one, and became members of CCCC. My heart was finally at ease and I began to put down roots loving the fact that I was at a church where I was accepted fully in spite of how miserably I sometimes failed. I imagined us being there for years and living life with the church family God had brought us to. I got comfortable.
                We were serving in the junior high ministry under Ryan Prater whom we had grown to love and respect. His enthusiasm and love for the kids was infectious. He set clear expectations of his volunteers and taught us to engage the kids during small group time where we would be fleshing out the message he gave which was always full of the Gospel. We, also, as I mentioned before, served as small group leaders for an adult group and I was serving as a leader in the churches Redemption Group program. We were doing everything we knew to plug in and serve and grow. We had loving relationships with our friends there and loved and were loved by the people who led us there. It was a precious time that I will always remember fondly. However, James continued to talk about this desire to help plant a church and we often wondered where that would lead us.
                Sometime in the winter of 2010, Ryan called a meeting of the volunteers for the junior high ministry. It wasn’t unusual for a meeting to be called and if I remember correctly, it was on the same Sunday evening that many of the other ministries were meeting for encouragement and training. However, during that meeting Ryan began to talk about something he needed to tell us. I knew what he was about to say.
                As he described the journey that he had been on I prepared myself for a goodbye. With tears in his eyes he told us that God had called him to plant a church and that in six months, his time would end at Clear Creek and he would be moving forward to do that. I was choked up, but comfortable. Then he said that he would be moving 50 miles away to the city of Katy to plant this new church. My eyes immediately moved to James and I knew then what he was thinking. I started making a list of reasons why this wouldn’t work for us in my mind, knowing that we would be going.
                Over the course of about a month we prayed and talked and finally came to the decision to let Ryan and his family know that we were on board and would begin preparing to move. James was ecstatic and I was in shock. I desperately did not want to go, but knew that as a wife, God had called me to submit to my husband’s leadership. I tried to talk myself out of it and kept coming back to the fact that I wanted my own sons to know that as husbands they had the responsibility to follow wherever God lead them. Digging in my heels was only going to undermine that and dishonor my husband. So, I began packing.
                We moved to Katy almost a year ago. We had been meeting with Ryan and the other families for about two months before that, making the fifty mile drive each Sunday. My transition out of Clear Creek Community Church was abrupt and I was in no way prepared for the ways my ideas about church would change. About a month before we moved I had lunch with my dear friend Susan Wesley who had planted Clear Creek with her husband seventeen years earlier. I asked her then what I should expect and how I could best serve there. Her answer? “You do whatever needs to be done. That’s how it will be for a long time and you just keep doing it.” She is very wise and I appreciated her candor. Honestly, though, I was hoping for something a little more glamorous. (Can I be any more na├»ve?)
                Nevertheless, I pushed forward moving to Katy with my family, enrolling my kids in new schools, moving into a new apartment, and then five months later yet another new apartment (that’s another blog post altogether).We made a commitment to this new church and in doing so made a commitment to a new way of life. We started seeing our neighbors as lost people who needed to be reached and sought ways to connect to them as such. When moving here, we decided to take the mission seriously in a new way. We had lived in an apartment complex previous to moving to Katy and in the two and a half years we had lived there we never had one neighbor over for dinner. Not one. Don’t’ get me wrong, Clear Creek had implored us to reach out to our neighbors, and we even talked about it. We just didn’t do it. I guess in some way, being on mission enough to move fifty miles helped us take the idea of being missional seriously. Maybe that’s what it took for us.(Jesus, please change my heart so I can learn these lessons without moving in the future.)
                It has been an interesting journey. It has cost us. I don’t say that to gain accolades but because that’s what Jesus says following him will do. It will cost you. We moved with our family and within four months our eldest son decided to go back to finish his senior year at his old school. I was devastated. How could that have been God’s plan? I wasn’t supposed to have to give him up so soon. Yet, God provided a way for Cal to go back and made it clear that we were where we belonged no matter how much I refused to believe it. (My son, Lord? You require my son?)
                We’ve also had to sacrifice other things. Things that we had come to believe were very much a part of church. For example, our children’s ministry is limited to babies and preschoolers right now. That’s all we can accommodate. We are doing everything we can to get more people to volunteer so that we can extend it to include our elementary age kids, but right now, we don’t have that. Coming from a church of 5000 where checking your child in to kid’s ministry was akin to going through airport security, that was a hard pill to swallow. And I get frustrated by it sometimes when my 6 year old is clearly bored stiff during adult service. However, it has cemented the fact that his spiritual upbringing is not the responsibility of the church, it is ours. We have had to be intentional about sharing God’s word with him on his level and also making time for him so that he doesn’t grow up thinking that we cared more about “religion” than we cared about him. It’s stretched us and we are learning as we go, but, it’s been a good learning. A good stretching.
                I’ve also learned to love in a new way. First, like I said before, we’ve really engaged with our neighbors and have done our best to have an open door policy in our home. Our neighbors know that if they knock on the door we’ll answer and unless we are truly unable, we will invite them in. It means being inconvenienced and having conversations when we’d rather sit in front of the TV. But, it’s good. It’s made our lives richer as we’ve gotten to know them and listened to their struggles. We give when we can to meet the needs that we see and sometimes, we can’t give enough. At those times, we continue to point them to Jesus who is the Giver of all good things.
                Another way I’ve learned to love is in how I love the people in my church, those I’m in spiritual community with. In a large church you have the luxury of finding the people who are like you to do life with. In a church plant, you’ve got who you’ve got and you’ve got to learn how to get along. I, myself, struggle with feeling similar to many of the Christians I know. In a word, I’m not very “churchy”. This has been true at Cross Community, where those of us who’ve committed are from all walks of life. I feel a deep sense of commitment to “know and be known” and that has led me to be very open about my life with those in our church. Often, I’m clumsy at doing that, but I feel strongly that I can’t invite people to a church gathering where they’ll have to hide who they are. So, I refuse to hide who I am. It gets uncomfortable and messy and I don’t always see my brothers and sisters through the same Grace I am afforded. However, I believe Jesus has called me into community with them and I press on to love them as I long to be loved and as I have, in fact, been loved.
                Susan’s advice all those months ago was key. There’s a lot to be done in a church plant and often, there are only a few doing it. Many times when Ryan is asking for someone to step up to do something an uncomfortable silence follows as everyone waits it out to see if they can avoid it. I’ve learned that when hard works needs to be done, it doesn’t necessarily have to fall under the category of your “calling”. Most often, in a church plant, if something needs to be done and you are able, consider yourself “called”. And it’s hard to see the same people responding over and over again. Even harder for Ryan, I imagine, as he worries over whether or not those who are serving are close to burnout. I pray we’re not. And I pray for others to come forward and serve and accept the calling to invest in the community God has brought them to.
                And hear this; we know we’re not doing it perfectly. We are struggling with our own sin and shortcomings along the way. We get tired and sometimes long for the days when we closed our door and no one would knock. We remember back to times when we knew that if we didn’t show up to serve, someone else would. And it was safe then, and comfortable, and the church would function without us, but is that what God really wants for us?
                Being part of a church plant isn’t easy, but I think it’s how being a part of any church is supposed to be. We are supposed to be serving and working and opening up until it hurts. We are supposed to model giving the way Jesus gave, giving that costs us. We are called to go out into our neighborhoods and preach the Gospel and invite the lost into community with us. These things aren’t specific to church plants, they’re specific to Christianity.
                I look ahead to the days when our church grows and functions differently. I am eager for the Cross Kids Ministry to grow and for there to be a rotation of volunteers to take their place in serving the body. However, I pray that even when we enter that stage, we don’t give up the urgency we feel now to reach the lost and serve those we come in contact with. I pray that those of us who are called now can maintain our identity as the “called out ones” to continue love Cross Community Church as we do now. This business of planting a church isn’t meant to be for a season, but rather, for life.