February 11, 2014

Hey Church Planter, True Love Waits!

So you think that True Love Waits was just about not going too far with your girlfriend and waiting until you were married?  A fad that swept American evangelicalism by storm before, surprise, surprise, burning out in the white hot flame of those who couldn’t?

What’s the real concern that True Love Waits simply glossed over?  It was our culture of immediacy.  The desire to have now, what was not ours rightfully to have now.  Not something that is wrong across time and space, but wrong in this time and in that space.

And if you are a church planter then let me assure you that the same “I want it now” immediacy that is crippling our culture in terms of sex, credit debt, desire fulfilment of all sorts, is crouching at the door ready to master you.

What do I mean by this?  Simply that church planters are in their very nature impatient.  You are, if that’s you, in all likelihood, planting a church because you saw the crying need in your context for a gospel church plant that would break the inertia of no one being evangelised or converted on anything like a regular basis.  You are planting a church because you want to cut red tape, green tape, blue tape. Give you a roll of Sellotape and you will cut it to shreds.

And then the church plant actually launches.  And it’s like the dog that finally caught the car and is now busy deciding what to do with it.  You have boundless energy, your core team has boundless energy, at least you think they do.  You are raring to go.

Well, here is what I have discovered after launching out once or twice into a new church plant: True Love Waits.

True Love Waits for those who think they knew what they were getting themselves into, to actually realise what they were getting themselves into.  I give it a year. How many people are you willing to burn out just to make it happen now?  Probably quite a few until the next one is you – or your wife.

True Love Waits for the church to bed itself into the new community.  Just because you think you are new and exciting and worth coming to, doesn’t mean the average person living in the same suburb does. In fact they have new and exciting sitting in the driveway, or in the theatre room (the advertising campaign told them so anyway).  Your aim is not to be new and exciting, but to demonstrate faithful longevity and a certain gravitas that burnishes more richly, rather than fades, over time.

True Love Waits for the gospel of God to do the work that the God of the gospel has promised to do.  Hence when Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:7 that God gave the growth, what he is really saying is that God gave the growth.  And that would be the God who called Abraham, and announced his blessings to him, thousands of years before the coming of Messiah who ushered those blessings in in their fulness.

True Love Waits means you might have to commit to staying in that church in that suburb for the next twenty years.  Yep, that suburb, you know, the one that is always threatening to take off, but like a poorly designed aeroplane next actually gets off the ground in order to become that funky, cafe laden, university-student-filled suburb your vision casting night predicted?  This is crucial.  In an era when the average 30 year old will have three or four careers, never mind places of employment, by the time they retire, can you buck the trend and just stay put?

Five years seems beyond most people these days, but isn’t that the problem of the instant?  If you’re a married church planter, think about your marriage. Surely true love waits in your marriage!  You wait through some rocky years, or wait out those sleepless baby years, or wait for those slightly stale, never getting the sex or intimacy thing quite right years to dissipate (but go see a marriage counsellor whilst you are waiting – Ed Tripp).  And then something clicks. Something pings.  And you sense that the last fifteen year, you have been waiting for this time.

Well, take that and apply it to your church plant.  Look, if your church is down to you and your wife and three kids in the lounge, and one of the kids texts from their bedroom to say they can’t make it this morning cos they slept in, well maybe then you should be shutting that thing down. But other than that, true love waits.

Church planter: don’t prep up a sermon application on the way the culture is constantly desiring the “now”, worshipping at the idol of the immediate, or failing to learn from history, if at the same time you are slowly seething at the failure of your crew to “get it”, or the lack of drive in that young family with young kids who you thought were your model evangelists.  The test will be your level of joy. If you spike into excitement that “this thing can really work” one week, before plunging into self-loathing and despair the next, perhaps you’re not bipolar, but simply not loving enough to be patient.  And you know what 1 Corinthians 13 says about true love – it waits.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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