I have done the youth ministry thing for over ten years. It was fun and it became comfortable. Students are teachable, moldable, and open. The teenage drama, while a real thing, is simple and straight forward. Adults, however, have mastered the art of backstabbing while they smile at you. Adults are stubborn, frustrating, and set in their ways. So planting a church is perhaps the worst idea ever. And, to be honest, what scares me the most is me and not adults.
I have grown comfortable with being in the middle of an established organization. It was job security and resources. There was enough influence to matter but the whole weight didn’t rest on me. Plausible deniability and deferred responsibility was a comfort I leaned on. I didn’t realize how much I depended on this until now. My family and I have been distracted by the hustle of packing, moving, unpacking, bills, getting kids in school, and the like. Now, as that hustle is fading away and the landscape of what lies ahead comes into sight, uncertainty and insecurity are starting to weigh heavily on me.
I have often come across the idea that church planters are a rare breed. There is a general consensus that church planters have a special mold and composition. They are a strong, persistent leaders with a contagious personality and a drive to set out and make something happen. That sounds appealing to me but I it’s not me…I think.
I’m convinced that everybody struggles with their identity. Some are more in tune with it than others but we all hide behind some type of mask (or masks). Some, through past trauma and a collection of personal choices, have become more distant than others. For me, it’s a conglomeration of trauma, stupid mistakes, and an indescribable fear of who I really am. I know what I am but I’m terrified of blowing it again. I know I am a leader but to lead means you could fail and, worse, you could succeed.
If you fail, you have room to grow, to start over, and to disconnect with what you were attempting. If you succeed, the stakes are higher, your visibility is more prominent, and the expectations are greater. Each success brings you to a new tier of possibility and responsibility. Each success carries with it the temptation to add a new set of masks to the one you’ve already been collecting. Each mask adds a false sense of security from behind which you can make more reckless mistakes. This scares me.
Church planters are expected to be confident leaders. It’s assumed – perhaps rightfully so – that people want a confident leader they can follow. Confidence is not something I would say I have right now. Trusting that my vision and ideas are worth pursuing does not currently come naturally to me. I know what the impact a single decision from a leader can have on those following him or her. I’ve seen organizations begin to collapse from the top down. A leader is a constant target for critique and evaluation. Every small and major action is added to collected base of evidence by which the community can construct a case for or against.
Hence the rationale that a church planter must be strong and confident in order to overcome this. I, on the other hand, am freaked the heck out. I frequently wonder why I ever agreed to this. As a friend said, “If you would rather be doing anything else, you probably shouldn’t be a church planter.” Well, there’s plenty I would rather be doing. Plenty. The risk isn’t the church plant: it’s me.
I have two sources of solace, however. The first is that I know God has used countless leaders who were scared out of their mind. Moses flat out refused to lead the redemption of his people until God forced him to. Joshua is repeatedly told to be strong and courageous, suggesting that it was something he needed to reminded of over and over again. Gideon was more than content hiding in his wine press out of sight from his enemies. The apostles all ran and hid when their Messiah was arrested. They sat hidden in a house not knowing what would come or what to do next. And yet God used them all to do something more than they could have ever expected.
The second source of hope is that all of these fears did not keep us in Moscow. I am here. We are moving forward. Fear has not won. In fact, it added confirmation to God’s call. If this were just a whim of an idea and a passion I wanted to make happen, it could be feasible that we would have done this without God’s direction. However, it was in the face of such fear and uncertainty that we still knew this was where God was leading. Confidence can be faked but it only becomes another mask we hide behind. It’s nothing more than comfort, a way of avoiding fear. As Brené Brown said, “You can chose courage or you can choose comfort, but you can’t have both.” Courage and strength are only discovered when we walk into the depths of our fears.
I’ve come to understand this is how God works. God’s path is not the one of least resistance. Obstacles and trials mark the race He lays before me. Faith shakes my deepest fears and challenges my most ingrained falsehoods. He beckons me to the areas I have refused to venture into because I am terrified of what might be in there. Every leg of the journey challenges my presumptions, forces me to understand my limitations and to live in my strengths. While my journey is unique, it still reminds me that I am not alone. There are others walking this path with me. There are others facing their own impossibilities and fears. Some have fallen and have given up… and I get it. I too have quit and have wanted to even more.
If I set my own course it would have been a peaceful stream moving down hill along the logical and easiest path. God is in the business of splitting seas and moving mountains.