February 22, 2016

Church Planting: What Happens When Things Don't Go Our Way?

“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.” (Proverbs 19:21)

It’s been a Proverbs 19:21 start to the year in Barlanark.

In fact, our whole experience here is summed up in that one verse.

18 months ago, we left our roles as youth workers and set out on this journey to plant a new, gospel-centered church in the scheme. In some ways, it seems not so long ago, yet in others it seems a lifetime ago.

At that stage, our plans were to gather a team, cement our vision, and start reaching out with the gospel to the many lost people around us. It wasn’t long until this morphed into our vision statement:

Making Jesus known in Barlanark and beyond;
by proclaiming the gospel
by making disciples
by living in community

This hit a chord. It pulled us together. It united our passion to see people come to know Jesus.

Soon we had been given a great office to work in, based in a local community centre. We started to study the Bible and pray with others every morning. We started to develop 1-to-1 discipling relationships for all the members of our group. We started to make new contacts with non-Christians. We started to see people profess faith.

Many were the plans of man. And it seemed the plans were bearing fruit.

By the end of the Summer 2016, a year into the full-time journey, we had over 15 adults who were professing faith and working towards this vision. We had at least four non-Christians who were regularly about our meetings, and we had contact with many others. We had nine kids with more soon on the way. And it seemed we had momentum. Our first intern had just started. Our toddlers group was hitting the ground running. We were encouraged. People, it seemed, were coming to know Jesus.

And so, we decided it was time to think about ‘launching’. The next stage in our plan was to meet together formally on a Sunday. It would pull us together. It would move us from being a group of Christians on mission to being a committed, covenanted-together local church. It would provide a focal point for our non-Christian contacts to come into. It would be the end, and at the same time the beginning, of our journey.

So we made a plan. April 2nd, 2017. That would be our first official service. That would be what we were working towards. That would be the moment our dream, our vision, became a reality.

Now, don’t get us wrong. We were sure this was not just our plan. We had prayed about this for months; years in fact. We had sought wisdom from others. We had discussed this often. And everything seemed to be falling into place. It seemed this truly was the purpose of the Lord.

And then, bit by bit, the plans unravelled.

People who had been professing faith and growing abruptly hit the wall and gave up. Others who were going strong for the Lord slowly but surely fell away. Some who had been working towards the vision were called elsewhere to serve in other places. And others who’d been on board with our vision realised our theological convictions didn’t align.

What looked from the outside like a thriving group of Christians, living to ‘Make Jesus Known’, slowly began to crack at the foundations.

Many were the plans of man, but the Lord had other ideas.

We are now back to the original seven members of our group that we started with two years ago. And the last two months have taken their toll.

In this ministry game, it feels like we have had to deal with one personal and spiritual attack after another. We have faced our houses being egged, letters of opposition being written, rumours and false accusations spread, Christians telling us our vision will never happen, and our team being bullied for playing their part in the mission. In the last year, as two families, we have had to deal with what seems like continued lack of sleep and normality at home, endless car troubles, a miscarriage, months of physical pain or sickness, and pastoral bomb after pastoral bomb.

And yet, in many ways, these were nothing compared to the last few months. We have been keenly aware of the Lord’s care in all these moments. Despite the roughest of times he has held us fast.

But surely the implosion of our church-planting team right before launch was not the purpose of the Lord? Certainly, it wasn’t our plan. If you had given us a blank sheet of paper just a few months ago and asked us to write down our worst-case scenario for pre-launch, even that probably would not have been this rough.

This was not our plan. But it was the purpose of the Lord.

All this does change things. We are going to slow down. We are going to regroup. We are going to postpone our 2nd April launch until the dust settles.

Rightly, people have asked us if we are sure. Shouldn’t we keep going in faith? What is the magic number? I mean, biblically, surely seven is the ideal starting point, right?! And no doubt there is truth and wisdom in this.

But many are the plans of man. . . .

We feel more at peace now than we have done in the last six months. We feel more assured than ever that now is the time to regroup and refocus on our mission. We feel more free than ever to go and proclaim the gospel. We feel ready to direct our energy again to the task in hand, to go and ‘Make Jesus Known’.

Perhaps the hardest part in all of this is dealing with our own pride.

We were looking forward to being the exciting first church launch from Harper Church and 20schemes in Glasgow. We were looking forward to being able to lead and pastor this church that we’ve dreamed of for so long. We were looking forward to getting going and hitting the ground running. Yet now, again, we are having to admit our weakness and say our plans have flopped. We are having to face people no doubt wondering if this is a lack of faith for not pressing on despite difficulty. Once again, we are having to be patient and rely TOTALLY on the Lord.

But this is not the end. This is not failure.

This is the mighty and gracious hand of God bringing HIS purposes to pass.

And we will press on.

Despite an abundance of evidence that might suggest otherwise, we are CONVINCED we are in the place God wants us. Why? Not because we have a growing team of mature Christians ready to give their all for the cause. Not because we have buildings and activities to act as a safety net for our group. Not because we are seeing many come to know Jesus. But because there are nearly 4,000 lost people in our scheme that need to hear the words of the gospel. Because we still have this treasure, admittedly in weak and failing jars of clay, that alone will bring hope to the hopeless. Because Barlanark (like every scheme and community in our land) still needs to know Jesus.

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” (2 Corinthians 4:8–11)

And so, more than ever, we are envisioned.

More than ever, we are excited about what God is going to do.

We are convinced this will be for the good of our group. That as we move forward, we will be able to build on a firmer foundation. That we will be able to learn these lessons and move forward in renewed joy and strength. That it is gracious of God to slow us down at this point rather than let us implode once we properly got started.

And so, we are convinced that this will be for God’s ultimate glory. That he is pulling back all pretence that we have this church-planting gig sorted. That he is making it clear that he alone will build his church. That he is showing the world that this is ALL down to him.

Therefore, we continue to proclaim the gospel. We continue to make disciples. We continue to live in community. We continue to desperately pray that the Lord’s will be done, and that he will indeed build his church and bring many lost people to know Jesus in Barlanark and beyond.

We didn’t plan it this way. But the Lord did. And for that we are glad.

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.

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