As news about the pandemic and its associated trials first started making global headlines, I became concerned for newer church planters. I’ve worked with enough planters over the years to know this phenomenon would hit them in ways that those of us in more established churches might (and I stress might) not fully appreciate.
Imagine trying to get your fledging congregation off the ground: countless face-to-face meetings, raising capital, procuring a meeting space, and a thousand other things to accomplish before launching. And then it’s takeoff—equally amazing and terrifying—as you gather for that initial corporate worship service.
As the weeks and months pass, you witness believers living missionally, the unchurched being reached, and leadership beginning to expand. While you have a long road to go, you can see this small congregation starting to grow wings.
Then everything gets turned upside down with COVID-19. The newfound confidence from in February is gone. In its place are insecurity and indecision.
It’s the gut punch you didn’t see coming. No one did. All that seminary training and all those planning sessions feel irrelevant now, and you’re left with so many questions. When will we be able to safely gather again? Is this the right time to spend resources to plant new churches? How long can small groups be sustained online?
I know there are more questions that can further bury a church planter’s heart and hopes, but you get the picture. In fact, that’s the problem. Those fears take up great space in our hearts. They get bigger, and our view of God gets smaller.
Let me humbly suggest that my fellow planters pause for a moment, take a deep breath, and remember how big God really is. And let’s do that by recalling the book of Revelation.
In the context of Revelation, Christians were easy targets for persecution. Tacitus, a Roman historian, wrote: “In their very deaths [Christians] were made the subjects of sport: for they were covered with the hides of wild beasts, and worried to death by dogs, or nailed to crosses, or set fire to, and when the day waned, burned to serve for the evening lights.” Nero unfairly blamed them for his own burning of Rome (both Peter and Paul were martyred under his reign). Safe to say, first-century Christians faced overwhelming fears.
But then God gave the apostle John a vision of Jesus bringing a message for the church in turmoil: the letter of Revelation. This letter is about a “beast” who came to destroy God’s people, but instead is destroyed by those people’s God.
The letter opens, “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place” (1:1). Jesus was about to give his troubled people a glimpse into their future. Revelation is Jesus telling his people, “This is what will happen, and here’s what I want you to do. But in all of it, know that I’m in control.”
Jesus departed as the Lamb but will return as the Lion.
Why does Jesus share this revelation with his people? Because their fears were overwhelming them. They surely would’ve overwhelmed me! God wanted his people to know—without a shadow of doubt—that he controls all history for his purposes (and our good). He wanted them to find their security in his sovereignty.
Notice he didn’t promise to remove their fear-inducing circumstances. In fact, things only got worse for these Christians. God didn’t tell them they wouldn’t have hard times, or that things would get easier. He said, “I’ve got it. I’m in control. Nothing can happen that removes you from my plans. Yours ultimately is a future with a hope.”
Our security in church planting is not found in our plans, training, or resources. We find security in his sovereignty.
He can say that because he’s the one true Lord. He’s the Alpha and the Omega, who declares the end from the beginning, who does all he pleases, and whose counsel stands forever (Isa. 46:10). In these unsure times, we can be sure of him. When we’re tempted to fear, his consistent character anchors our faith.
Church planters, listen to the voice of your King. You don’t fight your fears by denying their existence or by downplaying their effect. You fight by seeing their size in light of the bigness of God. So let your real trepidations get re-proportioned by the goodness and greatness of the King of kings and Lord of lords. The same God who comforted his people in the first century seeks to comfort his people in the 21st, for his control of history is no less certain.
We may not know what the future holds for our church plants concerning COVID-19, but we do know who holds the future. Our security in church planting is not found in our plans, training, or resources. We find security in his sovereignty.