Church Planting Is Like Death
Yet this death but brings life-giving fruitfulness. This is not a surprise to followers of Christ.
Jesus said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me;” John 12:25-26a
What is death? It is form of separation. When a church is planted, there is almost always significant separation from loved ones. This feels like death. In a sense it is. For example the church planter’s family, like Abraham’s, is often called to go to a new place.
We have done this more times then I want to count, and it always has been a painful sifting for us. This is especially true for my wife, Diane. Our second church plant took us 2,500 miles away from family, to Los Angeles (which people kept suggesting was going to fall into the ocean at any moment because of its sinfulness). One angry relative in North Carolina was upset and blurted out “Aren’t there enough _____(beep)_____ pagans on the east coast.” One thing that helped family feel better about California, was talking about the other option of moving to China.
Our next move, after starting two new churches in Southern California, was to the San Francisco area. This was a grinding cultural shift for us. Right away, we faced new challenges like getting reproved by a neighbor for letting our water hose run for a few minutes, reading about trees being raped, and watching a neighbor across the street go out to meetings in his Satan worshipping outfit attire.
But then came the biggest move of our lives. USA to Moscow, Russia back in 1993. We went from suburbia to the 15th floor of a Soviet high rise (complete with crumbly steps), from a mini-van to a crowded Russian bus, from Super Wal-Mart to street shopping for vegetables, and from familiar instant meals to making borsch from scratch. We also transitioned from sunny California to snow 6 months a year. Diane, like a good girl scout, worked hard to prepare for every situation that might face our family of 6 in a foreign land. We laugh, now, about the fact that we literally brought more medical supplies than the local hospital had in its inventory.
Yet, the death we experienced in church planting was a doorway to life not just for others, but for us as well. Moving to Russia, for example, motivated all four our sons to either accept Christ or make serious recommitments to Christ. These commitments are still bearing fruit, as all of our sons are now starting college ministries or churches. We also had the amazing joy of seeing a church birthed in our Moscow living room and baptisms in our bathtub. In addition, God used us to develop curriculum resulted in 600 churches and another 600 preaching points all over the Former Soviet Union in just a few years!
Yes, planting has been painful and lonely at times, but the benefits have been well worth it. Moving for a mission unified our family. Plus, God provided many friends that become like extended family for us. Our hearts are warmed every time we visit churches we planted, and people thank us for planting them. None of our eight church plants have grown really large under our leadership, but, by God’s grace, over 20,000 people attend them, or churches they have planted.
We are now struggling with a new challenge. God is calling us to move from San Diego to Toronto, Canada. This move takes us away from two of our sons, plus further from our grandbaby. We try to comfort ourselves by reminding ourselves of the reality of eternal relationships and by clinging Jesus’s promise:
“Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now inthe present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life. Mark 10:29-30
Will you come die with Christ?