Tonight I've been pondering the pleasure and the pain that is church planting. It occurred to me that it's very much like having a baby. At first, before you get pregnant, you want to so bad you can almost taste it. You know you'll be a wonderful parent, and you'll do everything right (after all, you've had all this experience watching others do the job and critiquing, and thinking of every single thing you'd do differently). You know it's just a matter of time, and occasionally you get annoyed with God for not operating on your schedule, but can (usually) reign yourself in. Finally, the moment arrives that you find out it's going to happen - you're going to have a church....er, um,...baby of your own. You come up with a name and grand plans for an adorable nursery. The perfect place to spend countless hours nurturing your little one. You do everything 'by the book'; you go to every class on childbirth and infant care. Occasionally, upon hearing the 'horror' stories of those who've gone before (which they now tell with a grin and a twinkle in their eye) there is this twinge of doubt...a certain feeling of having crossed a 'point of no return'. But you choose to focus instead on all the encouraging things people say about how wonderful it is that you are planting...I mean, expecting. How cute you look, how exciting it all is.
And then, one day, you start having these pains. They start out as minor; they catch you off-guard a little bit, maybe quickens your breath a bit, but really, you just feel excited. You happily talk about how this might be 'it'! You smile, and start checking the time and maybe even start making a few calls to let people know... "I think this is it!" And then...
Then those minor irritations start becoming BIG pain. They seem to come faster than you expect, then faster than you think you can handle. Suddenly you aren't smiling, and you don't really want to talk to anyone anymore. You are all too aware that, yes, this is IT, and you think "OH CRAP!!!!" because you realize you really have to do this. You are committed in every way. There's no turning back, there's no where to go, there's no getting out of this. It's already been set in motion. Sometimes the process is quick, but often, at least with your first, it can be long and grueling. (I remember begging for medication - anything that would stop the pain - but it didn't work. I cried, and said that I KNEW I could NOT do this!!! People assured me I could - but they were not experiencing what I was!! They may have in the past, but they were not at this moment!! I was sure they had forgotten what it was really like).
Then, there it is. Your very own baby. It's beautiful - but it's wrinkly and messy and crying - but you wouldn't trade it for the world. You are overcome with emotions of love. Then, they send you home.
After a period of people coming, bringing gifts and congratulating you, you are suddenly left alone. Alone with this baby that needs LOTS of love, attention and care. It cries - sometimes seemingly all the time, and it pees and poops on you. It gets you up at ungodly hours of the night, and you are exhausted. The lovely nursery you planned to spend countless hours rocking, singing, changing and bathing your baby in is traded in for the reality of falling asleep nursing on the couch, changing diapers on the floor - simply because it's just easier, and sometimes a baby-wipe-washing just has to make-do because you don't have the time or energy to do the whole bath thing. Welcome to the harsh reality called pastoring...oops, sorry,... I mean, parenthood.
12 years of pregnancy/parenting has taught me it's hard; it makes you cry; you absolutely can't quit (and there are some times you want to); it's uncomfortable, sometimes even painful. You have to make hard choices, and you have to make sacrifices. Sometimes you have to make someone unhappy with you, but you know it's really for their own good (and that one really stinks). But through it all, deep down inside (some days it's REALLLLLY DEEEEP down) you would never change it. Sure, you might wish it weren't so hard, that things came easily and quickly, but you would NEVER change your choice to have this precious child.
I'm only 2 years into church planting. I don't think I've even really hit the parenting stage full-on yet. I've experienced some aspects, but mostly I think I'm at the really painful, realizing there's-no-way-out-of-this stage. I'm begging for relief, but the only option is to keep pushing. I am beginning to understand the gleam in the eye of church planters who have gone before. I'm also experiencing the overwhelming love for what I see emerging.
I've known God's grace as a parent; I am praying for the same grace as a planter.