Not many people put these together in one sentence. Young men and their families who embark upon the church planting adventure rarely if ever stop to think about suffering. I don’t think this is true just with church planters, I think it has something to do with youth. Young people don’t usually add suffering into the equation of life. I don’t blame them, I just observe this–in my own life and then in the lives of many church planters that I have spent time with.
What about suffering? Well, there are a number of reasons that church planters in particular suffer. First, invariably when the church planter begins his voyage, there are a number of things that often happen somewhere along the way in the early stages. I have observed moving truck breakdowns, car wrecks, blood clots or other health issues, complications with babies, inability to land a job, parent health issues, inability to get an apartment or a home right away, and the list goes on and on. Most of the time, because of God’s great grace, the church planter and his dear wife have no idea that they are in the middle of suffering. God’s grace does that! I can remember our very first church plant in Germany. On the day of our first service ever, our oldest son–not quite one year old–fell off the bed and got a concussion. We had never seen a concussion before, but somehow new that the throwing up wasn’t normal. We had only been in Germany for a few weeks and had no idea what to do. Cindy took him home (an attic room in which we were staying with or co-workers) and had no idea who to call and how even to call her mother in the states. Finally, God gave her the idea to call a Canadian friend who was already at church–she was a big help–and off they went to a children’s hospital downtown. That night as he lay there pretty still and even lifeless, God really worked in my heart a brokenness that I’ll never forget. It was life changing. It was also suffering.
God uses two things in all of us to help mold us: people and circumstances. In church planting, He knows how to use both in such a way that works a distinct brokenness that works a dependence upon Him and a great knowledge of who He is and what He is doing. This is vital to the work of a church planter–especially if he is going to build a church that is alive with the person and work of Christ.
I am always amazed at the words that Christ spoke to Annanias when Paul, then Saul, first came to Christ. Acts 9:16 says, “For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” I would have thought it would have been a good time for Christ to say, “I will show him how to have the right philosophy of ministry, or the correct doctrine, or the greatest method of evangelism/discipleship–and just how great a conference speaker he will be.” All that is inescapably missing. He must suffer. So, church planter, missionary, pastor, friend, we too must suffer. Enjoy the company. Christ also came to suffer unspeakable suffering so that we might have life. He is our trail blazer–our pattern–let’s follow Him with great joy and confidence–full of grace and truth. God’s grace is flowing and is more than sufficient–especially in the middle of suffering.