4 Lessons Learned from my First Year of Church Planting

“I will follow you wherever the Lord leads you.” Those have been the words I’ve always told my husband since the day we said I do. For my husband and me, it has never been about what city we saw ourselves living in and would feel most comfortable in. Our posture has been more of “Lord, where is the need?” Send us. Frankly, my following has not always been filled with joy and excitement. There have been many times where doubt and fear of the unknown would so completely take over my thoughts and emotions that I would find myself curled up in bed crying as I contemplated the move: leaving a place where sweet friendships were made, where I felt safe and was most comfortable with my family. Like any other church plant, this venture began two years earlier with building a team before we moved. Even though we were preparing to head out, and I was willing to go in joyful obedience, at the time I was admittedly struggling with doubt and fear, as if I would have better control over my family than the Lord would. In the Lord’s faithfulness, I was reminded in Luke, chapter 14, that if I was not willing to take up my cross and follow Him, and not give up all of my possessions, and even my comforts, that I cannot be His disciple. “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:12, 14-15). The Lord knew what was going on in my weary and wavering heart, I had to draw near to Him, repent and surrender my doubts, fear and desire to be in control of the well-being of my family as if that was my job to execute. I was blinded to remember that He is the one that goes before me, He will be with us. He will not fail us, or forsake us, so I do not need to fear or be dismayed (Deut. 31:8). Certainly, when it was time to let go of the place we had called home for 10 years, it was still difficult to leave our church, friendships and our sweet family.

Undoubtedly, I was in the front row seat of one of the first of many lessons learned before we ever set foot in the place we were soon to call home. In June of 2014 we arrived in Phoenix, Ariz. in the dry heat of the desert and welcomed by a whopping 110-degree weather. That same week I stood amazed as monsoons poured down and giant dust storms, called haboobs rolled in. Again, I was reminded that He is in control.

In our journey we were accompanied by my husband’s uncle, who adventurously helped us drive our moving truck cross country, only to find himself hospitalized for heart troubles. He remained with us for two months until he was given an okay by doctors to travel. This was the beginning of learning hospitality, flexibility, intentionality, loving my neighbor as myself and ownership.

Hospitality

Soon after my husband’s uncle departed, our house became a home with a revolving door as team members came and stayed with us until they found a place of their own. They stayed for a month, or 15 days, or seven months. In between, we also had visitors. I certainly thought I knew all about hospitality -- sure, I can entertain people and keep a clean house in presentable conditions. I can serve good meals, provide a comfortable room for them to sleep. That is, until the reality of having people in my home became cumbersome and the excitement of hosting people began to wear off. I was so busy in doing and entertaining that I almost missed a great lesson the Lord was teaching me during these times of transition for my brothers and sisters. Romans 12:13 says: “contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” and 1 Peter 4:9 reminded me that showing hospitality to each other should be done without grumbling. If I was struggling in showing hospitality to my brothers and sisters, then how could I show hospitality to strangers, as Heb.13:2 tells us? True hospitality is making people feel welcome and wanted. [quote]True hospitality is making people feel welcome and wanted.[/quote]

Flexibility and Intentionality

We began to contrive a plan to reach the neighborhood we lived in and put hospitality into practice. My boys and I knocked on every neighbor’s door, delivering baskets of baked goods with a note that introduced who we were and our desire to get to know them. Some doors were opened and some were not. But that didn’t stop us to from trying. For Halloween, our team came to our house and set up outside. We were ready with good candy, hot dogs, cold bottled water and smiling faces eager to share about Jesus, our community group and our church. We met many needy, hungry and thirsty people, not hungry for food but for spiritual things. After befriending a young man, there were many gospel conversations after that initial meeting and later on with his family. That was a very productive and rewarding night. During October we were able to partner with an organization that provides affordable housing and classes for their residents, and hosted an Anger conference in their facilities. From that event we met a lady that had been struggling with anger and forgiveness and engaged with her; she came to faith in Christ and we were able to walk with her and taught her how to use and read her bible. For Thanksgiving, we delivered meals to families in the neighborhood and a mobile home park close by and were able to invite them to come and sit around our table to celebrate Thanksgiving together (Luke 14:12-14). This by far was one of the most beautiful Thanksgivings I had ever experienced -- the diversity around that table was what made it so meaningful. Intentionality requires flexibility and flexibility requires you to get out of your comfort zone. [quote]Intentionality requires flexibility and flexibility requires you to get out of your comfort zone.[/quote]

Loving My Neighbor as Myself

Yes! People need to hear about Jesus and the good news of the Gospel, but how will they listen to the good news I long for them to hear when I don’t know anything about them? How can I speak to the needs of their lives and engage in a relationship with them? We quickly learned that people have a desire to belong and to be heard, but in order for them to engage with us they needed to know that we could be trusted and that we truly cared and desired to know them. Deliberately we played outside as much as we could each week to wave a friendly hello to our neighbors. When opportunities occurred to engage in conversation, we did. For months I was able to engage with the lady that delivered our mail and had water for her until her route was changed. My kids were running to the door to say hi and to give her a bottle of water. She felt welcomed and wanted so that as time passed by, she began to share her story with me and I was able to pray with her and share the Gospel. As we engaged with our neighbors we continued to invite them to participate in our community group for a time of prayer and study the bible together. Thereafter our home was known as a house of prayer. People felt welcome and wanted and knew where to go for prayer and comfort. Loving my neighbor as myself requires me to take notice of them, to be a good listener and ask good questions.

Ownership

“It’s about loving the people, it’s about the Gospel.” Wise words I was constantly reminded of by my husband. I have taken ownership of the fact that I too am a church planter, not only my husband. As His disciple I am commanded to go and proclaim the Gospel. (Mark 16:15) We have been privileged to participate in the Kingdom work He is doing in Phoenix. I am not the only one who gets to sit in the front row seat, but my children do, too. Ownership obliges involvement and involvement cultivates a love for others.

Beloved, as you step out in faith, may your eyes be fixed on Jesus.