Three Reminders from the Annunciation for Planters
Every year, during Advent, we enter into God’s story of redemption where the Creator God chose to become flesh. The choice changed the history of the world. And this new movement of God began with a declaration to a young Jewish girl in the Ancient Near East. The story of the Annunciation is common to all Christians, treasured by Catholics, and re-lived by church planters.
What do I mean that church planters re-live this story? Just as God did with Mary, one day God interrupts the church planter’s life and ministry with an announcement. The world doesn’t notice, but the recipient cannot ignore it. A declaration was made in the heart. God is doing something new, his mission of reconciling the world is expanding and he is asking the planter to be a part of it. And through the planter, God will make himself known to people. Through the planter, his presence on earth will be felt. A local church will be born.
For those of us who have heard this declaration in our hearts, there are a few things we can learn from Mary and her response to the angel Gabriel and this amazing yet perplexing calling.
- You should feel out of your league.
Upon hearing what God wanted to do through her, Mary’s first reaction was a humble acknowledgement that she didn’t have it. “ Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34). She was told her son would be the Messiah. She understood what God wanted to do, but recognized she was not pregnant – not even close. So her immediate response was, how? “How can this be?” “Maybe you knocked on the wrong door Gabriel.” “I’m not qualified, and I’m not ready.”
I don’t know how else to say it: If you don’t feel out of your league, I’m concerned. You either don’t know what you are getting into, or you are too prideful to understand that you are woefully inadequate for the task at hand. A call to plant a church should immediately cause you to ask, “How can this be…?” God is calling you to join with him in creating a new community of faith: a place where people will go from death to life; where captives will be set free. Where the blind are given sight. God wants to change the eternal destiny of hundreds, even thousands of people, through something you will lead. Please tell me you feel out of your league—because you are.
- There is already a plan; wait for it.
Mary’s humble question brought about a reassuring answer. Mary didn’t need to figure this thing out. She didn’t need to “make” it happen. God didn’t announce something to Mary without having the details already worked out. She didn’t need to force this life into being. She didn’t need to rush into a marriage with Joseph. No way. In fact, if she had tried to make her plan God’s plan, it would have ruined what God was doing. No, her role was to be a vessel, and to nurture what God created.
Church planter, don’t try to make your plans. Certainly, we have to create mission/vision statements, values, and partnership plans. But let those things flow out of God’s plan. Keep a heart of humility that allows the time and space for God to conceive a new church. Yes it will live in your heart long before anyone else can see its new life, but remember who created it. This is God’s church. Let him create it.
What does that mean practically? It means after you hear the annunciation of a new church that will be born through you, trust that God has a unique plan for it. There are many types and methods for church planting. Your denomination or tribe might have one that they push as being the best model. Don’t rush into it. Spend time in prayer. Spend time around the people you are called to reach. Spend time in the neighborhoods you are called to impact. And simply let God work out his plan. If I had taken what I thought was the best method and timeline for planting and pushed it into existence, we would have failed. And failed miserably. God has a plan. Let it work itself into existence.
- Prepare your heart for the long wait.
The time between finding out you are going to be a parent to seeing your baby in the flesh can seem like forever. The expectation and longing to see this new life can be really hard. Of course, I’m saying this as a father who did not have to endure the physical and emotional stress of carrying a baby to term. It’s safe to say that it’s much, much harder for mothers.
As a church planter, know that you are going to be carrying a weight long before anyone else sees it. You will have a longing for this new thing to be born. Carrying this calling to term will mean enduring some hardships. It might mean uprooting your family from the place they love to call home, only to go to a town where there are no friends or family who are ready to welcome you. You might have to endure the judgmental glares of others as you act in ways that seem irresponsible to others (especially your family and your spouse’s family). “What do you mean you are leaving your ministry position at the large church to go to nothing?” “Why did you go to seminary only to end up mopping floors and making coffee?”
Mary had it right when she responded to this shocking, perplexing calling: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:37). Her response is one of humble commitment to God’s plan. And she faithfully endured the wait. And we benefit the blessings of her faithfulness.
There is a community that needs your faithfulness to carry a heavy burden, and to carry it to term. There will be sacrifices. It will not go according to how you planned or imagined. But please don’t lose heart. No matter what happens—the trials, the bruises, the disappointments; when the core team members back out and don’t show the necessary commitment; when the building lease falls through; when you check the bank account—don’t lose heart. Continue to say, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”