I have been in the process of starting a church in downtown Dayton for about 4 years now. I never went into the challenge expecting it to be easy, but I can certainly see how it does not always go the way I envisioned.
I felt the call to start a church[es] when I was 21 years old. That was in 2001 after I went on a spring break mission to New York City. There I fell in love with teaching people about Jesus who did not know much. That week I had the privilege to work with artists, professionals, children, the impoverished, and many more about Him. I knew starting something from scratch would not be easy, so I sought some counsel from older men. They all told me I needed to go to Seminary. So in 2003 I went to Seminary expecting to learn two things: (1) Learn the OT better, because it was SUPER confusing, and (2) learn how to start a church.
I actually called my future church planting professor and asked him how I could start preparing before I came to Seminary, and he said, “Get involved with a church plant.” From 2003-2010 I was a part of two plants—one during the tail end of college, and the other while I was in Seminary. Here is one thing I learned during that time—SLOW DOWN!
When I was young I made decisions quickly. I did not weigh the consequences of my life choices very well. It felt like I was taking my time, but when I look back on it now I can see I did not.
This past week in church we talked about how God was building a nation through the descendents of Abraham. So what is the connection between my experience and the ideas we learn about in God building His kingdom? Well, what I was reminded of this week is the norm in Scripture is God builds His kingdom SLOWLY.
For instance, consider the nation of Israel in the book of Exodus. When they came to Egypt they were still a small family of about 70 people. Jacob (Israel) was still alive. He was one of the grandsons of Abraham. One of Jacob’s sons, Joseph, was the second in command in all of Egypt. When the book of Exodus opens it says this, “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1.8). In order for that to happen there would have to be some significant time go by. The family increases greatly during this time (Exodus 1.7). They get so big the Egyptians begin to worry they might take over as a world super power, so they decide to enslave them. God warned Abraham this would happen in Genesis 15.13. What He specifically tells Abraham is that his descendents will be in bondage, slavery, and severe affliction for 400 years. I MEAN 400 YEARS! But God goes on to say, “But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with GREAT possessions” (Genesis 15.14). What did that just tell us? God is going to take His time to build the great nation of Israel. We are talking at least 400 years. In the midst of that 400 years there will also be severe affliction and suffering.
So here is my conclusion...the kingdom of God is a slowly built kingdom. In a generation of iPhones, the internet, and fast moving culture this bothers us. I know it bothers me. I expected, as did many others, that starting a church would not take that long. I am not saying this to undermine my denomination, because I understand why they have to do this, but they will only fund a church plant for 3 years. The average church plant takes about 3 years to become “self-sustaining”. It is supposed to take on average 3 years for a church to fund their own ministries, pay their staff, and etc.
If we are talking about merely money when it comes to a church plant, then our church has done quite well. But anyone who is a part of our church in an intimate way would say we are still a LONG way off from becoming “self-sustaining”. We do not have the leaders it will require for us to do the basic ministries we are striving to do (which is just 3 ministries). It has not been easy. There are days when I wake up feeling affliction, suffering, feelings of isolation and loneliness, and etc. There days when I wake up and say, “God is this what you really called me to? I am not sure if I can keep doing this.” But this is when I begin to hear that still small voice. The Spirit of God reminds me of this very truth I talking with you about.
You see friends not everything in the kingdom comes quickly. I would say that is not even the normative practice of God in Scripture. God takes His time. He encourages us to seek to understand what He is doing, and how He is making us to be more like His Son in the midst of the slow building project (Rom 8.28-29). To our church members, and to my fellow church planters, or fellow laborers in the faith do not compare yourselves to others. It is ok if God is using you to build something slowly. God has blessed some others with speed and precision. If you spend time with those people they will openly admit it comes with its own challenges. I felt called to plant a church in 2001 and did not begin planting my first until 2011. Paul took 13 years to prepare for the church planting movement he would help spark. Be faithful in what God has given you, and remember the kingdom of God is built slowly. It’s ok to take your time—God does.
J. Pope - The Doxa Dude