In reflecting upon the planting of our first church, Communion Church, I have come face to face with what all “parents” know: giving birth if a painfully wonderful thing. Waiting for the “baby to be born”, or church to be planted, proves equally exciting and difficult. Like first time parents waiting to meet their unborn child, there is all kinds of uncertainties, joys, and fears. Throughout the 9 months (for a church plant it’s usually more) of gestation they go through different stages as future parents.
The first stage begins with unbelief. Though the shape and size of the “body” is clearly changing, there still remains small traces of doubt to whether or not there really is a life there. Muscles you didn’t know you had hurt, bones ache, and things begin to “feel” different even if they don’t look different quite yet. And though you might be prone to believe that you’re just getting old and fat, when get the first glimpse–the first ultrasound (or preview service)–everything becomes real. Within months another life will be living and breathing on its own. Amazing.
The second stage builds on the excitement of the first. While you don’t really know what the child is going to be yet (boy or girl),or what it is going to look or act like, you begin to hope for certain things. Future dreams are imagined, romantic plans are made, rooms are decorated, and spaces are prepared. Meanwhile, the new life continues to grow and change, rather quickly it seems, as does the mother’s “body”. The changes are so dramatic now that your “pregnancy” is now clearly visible to everyone who sees you–though few dare say it. But there is clearly a “glow”. When it becomes common knowledge, and the news is made public, all kinds of people start celebrating with you, friends both new and old, near and far. Eventually, when the second ultrasound comes, usually halfway through the full gestation, whether or not this baby is a boy or girl, big or small, begins to take shape.
During the third (of four) stages, as the essential parts of this new body take form, the “mother’s” body really changes. It almost feels like your parts don’t work like they used to (use your imagination). Living in the body is a bit stressful because it is a bit uncomfortable all of the time. It is not a sharp pain, rather a dull ache that is ubiquitous throughout the entire body. Movement feels slow. The body is hard to move quickly, everything slows down to a crawl like pace, and “mom” begins to express her desire to “get the baby out.” You are reminded of the realness of the child constantly as it moves and kicks you all day–a painful and joyful experience. At this point, the excitement of being a parent is equally real and a little frightening. Suddenly, the reality of being responsible for another life (at least for a time) causes a new kind of anxiety. Expectations of sleepless nights, midnight feedings, and dirty diapers terrify, but much less than the thought of what you don’t expect.
The fourth and final stage is the birth. After nine months of slow gestation for this new life, the body gets ready to bring this new life into the world, an experience over several hours (or days) that climaxes in a few minutes of otherworldly agony. It is an amazing, terrible, wonderful, horrible, life-changing, excruciatingly painful experience all at the same time. Welcome to planting a church.
I don’t think I spent enough time meditating on the gestation of Communion Church. Now that Communion has officially been born (launched), like a new parent, I am beginning to reflect on the experience and what impact it has had, is having, or will have, on me and Damascus Road. The comparisons with the birth of a child appear endless. Like the birth of a child, a new church brings incredible joy into a family and among friends. It is something to celebrate and promote everywhere. It brings a renewed energy to everyone and a strong sense of family as everyone come to help and bless.
Though I have seemingly forgotten as a parent of four, with the birth of this church I have suddenly realized that the birth of a child brings with it a lot of work, sacrifice, and daily stress–especially for the lead pastor. Like a mother who just gets home from the hospital, tired and sore; she walks into her home, holding her new bundle of joy, and quickly sees that the myriad of “everyday” needs of the family are still there. They haven’t changed, in fact, they feel even more difficult to manage because her body is worn down from the big event; and there is another mouth to feed.
I am only now beginning to realize how much of a toll a church plant takes on a church and its pastors. I guess the “baby blues” even apply to church planting. It’s not the same as some sort of hormonal induced depression, but it is post-partum-like experience whereby unexpectedly after the delivery,for an unknown reason, pastors feels alone, overwhelmed, and easily irritated. At the same time, the rest of the family is having to adjust to the new life; everyone feels a bit lost, confused, and neglected.
And no, I am not writing this from the fetal position in my room. Nor am I writing it because I got a hundred emails from disgruntled members or because our church is suddenly a ghost town. I am writing it as I stop and make an honest assessment of myself and the family. I understand now, all too well, why most churches decide not to plant churches. Yes, some may choose to grow their church families through adoptions (merges) or buying other houses to spread their family out (campus) , but fewer and fewer are choosing to do it the old-fashioned way–because it hurts in a wonderful-terrible way. So, Damascus Road, because we have decided to bring a new life into this world, I now realize how much we will need each other in ways that we don’t even realize yet. Again, none of these feelings or future concerns should take away from the joy that is Communion Church. But it is a reality; one that can be expected when we plant the next church and better prepared for. Until then, we have much work to do to the glory of God and for our joy. Until we find a normal rhythm again, we will have to work like new parents in survival mode who need more sleep, more intimacy, and more solid meals, and less unpredictability, less crying , and less anxiety.