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Cornerstone-August 2020-Sunflower Fields

God’s Sovereignty in Church Planting

by Rev. Frank Liu
Cornerstone Reformed Church, St. Paul, MN
the Missions Banner, June 2021

“The work of church planting is not for the faint of heart.” 

The warnings are given by experienced church planters and older ministers to younger church planters and to the core groups who join them. But, the reality doesn’t set in until they are about waist-deep into the work.  In reality, the issues that church plants face are not altogether unique from that of larger, more established congregations. The difference is in the optics—how the challenges are viewed within the context of the church. For example, when a family visits an established congregation, they may appear to be no more than “window dressing,” perhaps not even noticed by half the congregation, but at a small church plant, they become center stage, and when the main play ends, it becomes glaringly, even painfully obvious.  Perhaps the percentage of visitors who remain and become members of larger congregations are higher, but at a small church plant, everyone wants to know the reasons for why that family didn’t stay, and those reasons then turn into occasions or temptations for their own discontentment. The reasons may not actually be bad at all: “We desire a youth group so that our children may have good Christian friends,” “we wonder whether or not your church plant will even survive” (yes, I’ve actually heard that one, several times, even!), “we wanted to see more programs at the church,” or “I can’t believe that people at your church are [not] wearing masks!”  

Perhaps this is one reason why there is another rule about church planting—that a church planter should not expect anyone in the starting core group to be present at the church when the church plant stands on its own, whether that be a few or several years later. It might be due to job transfers or the need to relocate to find work, for a better or cheaper retirement, for better doctrinal alignment elsewhere, disagreements with the leadership, or more pointedly, due to the discouragement within the life of a church plant. The discouragements are real and felt. When troubles hit larger congregations, it is like weathering ocean waves while on an aircraft carrier or cruise ship; they are still felt, but not so severe. But for a church plant, the troubles are like storms against a dinghy boat. Even so, speaking of boats and storms, we should be reminded of the disciples and their panic on the boat in the Sea of Galilee, that their passenger on their boat who rebuked the winds and the sea is the same one who is Lord of the church plant while we weather the present storms (Mark 4:25-41).  

At times, I ask myself why God’s timeline is so different than man’s. People should mature faster (myself included!); the congregation should grow faster, and the members you love and who serve faithfully should stay longer. But the Lord is far wiser than man; He knows the end from the beginning and He understands all things perfectly. The Lord is a far more loving Shepherd; He laid down His life for the sheep! The people who loved the church but stayed and served only a brief time remained not a day longer or a day shorter than God had planned, and they served a crucial purpose at an important time in the life of the church. No member of the church family or part of the body was random or in any way dispensable. Jesus arranged it thus because He is the head of His Church, and when we look back years from now, He will receive all of the praise and glory!  

Even so, the Lord in His infinite wisdom and abounding compassion toward His beloved children gives timely encouragements along the way—glimmers of hope as evidences of His sustaining grace towards His people. Experiencing discouragement is not a challenge only for those who are part of a church plant, but rather for all Christians, for life is fraught-full of heartaches and let-downs. This is why Jesus’ promise that accompanies the Great Commission is so valuable to us: “and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20). God has promised that He will never leave us or forsake us!  This should mean something significant to us, His bride, the Church!

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