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Acts 29: Churches Planting Churches

“I think the besetting sin of pastors, maybe especially evangelical pastors, is impatience.” — Eugene Peterson

I have a confession that both my wife and staff can validate. I like to move fast. I drive, read, think, decide, type, eat, and walk quickly. Woe to those who casually dawdle through airports or have the audacity to drive under the speed limit in the passing lane!

Too often my prayer has been, Lord, give me patience NOW.

Over the past few years, though, I’ve been learning to slow down. To be attentive to the Spirit’s pace in our church. To be still before the Lord.

Idol of Immediacy

Generally speaking, church planters in first-world countries are about as patient as a 4-year-old on a cross-country road trip. Are we there yet? How much longer? comes the voice from the backseat of our heart.

I’ve pastored in megachurches of tens of thousands, in house churches of dozens, and sizes in between. In each season, my heart has been tempted by the allure of immediacy. The idolatrous desire for instant gratification exists in every ministry context, but it can acutely haunt church planters as we navigate the tension of an abundance of vision and a scarcity of resources.

The kind of leaders who burn themselves out, burn their marriages up, and burn their ministries to the ground are the impatient ones.

Church planters daily wake to a temptation to move at a pace at which the Spirit isn’t moving. Looking through the window of our congregations, we notice a lack of congruence between what we desire for them and what we actually see.

The kind of leaders who burn themselves out, burn their marriages up, and burn their ministries to the ground are the impatient ones. Is it any wonder that Scripture’s wisdom writings juxtapose patience with pride? For example, Ecclesiastes 7:8: “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.”

Impatience is the pride of thinking our timing is better than God’s.

Unhurried Ministry of Jesus

Like all runners lining up for their first big race, church planters must learn to counterbalance the adrenaline that propels us out of the starting blocks at lightning speed with a sustainable pace. Pastors, after all, are long-distance runners, not sprinters.

In a time of great haste, we must re-learn practices that lead us toward patience.

And yet, the unholy trinity that Jim Elliot dubbed “noise, hurry, and crowds” easily robs us of joy. There’s certainly nothing wrong with a large and growing church. But shouldn’t we be a little cautious of the very things Satan used to tempt Jesus on the front end of his public ministry?

First was the hurry of immediate gratification: “Turn these stones into bread (Matt. 4:3). Second, the temptation to prove himself with a spectacular display: If you’re really the Son of God, prove it. Throw yourself off the temple and have the angels catch you” (Matt. 4:5–6, paraphrased). Finally, Satan baited his hook with global glory and power (Matt 4:8-9).

Each of these temptations—immediacy, legitimacy, and glory—have to do with timing. Eventually, Jesus’s fasting would end, his identity as the Messiah would be vindicated, and the glory of earth’s kingdoms would belong to him.

But not yet.

And in the “not yet,” Jesus patiently trusts the Father’s timing. Not once in the Gospels do we see him in a hurry. So why are we?

Running at the Spirit’s Pace

In his insightfully titled book, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, Alan Kreider proposes that patience was one of the essential virtues of Christians living under Roman rule. Since God is patient, they determined that “they, trusting in God, should be patient—not controlling events, not anxious or in a hurry, and never using force to achieve their ends.” What wisdom for church planting!

Slowing ministry pace in order to increase ministry longevity is a step forward, not backward, in fruitfulness.

The Western church doesn’t need more leaders who mimic shooting stars, briefly streaking across the skyline of conferences and podcasts. Instead we need farmers, who understand the seasons and know what it means to wait.

Since God is in charge and more committed to his mission than we are, we can relax into the hardworking rhythms of sowing, watering, and reaping—while leaving the results to him. As James 5:7–8 reminds us:

See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.

In a time of great haste, we must re-learn practices that lead toward patience. What if we not only pray outrageously big prayers for our churches, but also embrace godly limitations through a rule of life that leads to longevity?

What if we give as much attention to the kind of leadership habits that produce a faithful finish (for example, genuine plurality, honest friendships, regular Sabbath rest, and unhurried time in prayer) as we do to strategic plans for an explosive launch? What if we obsess more about our walk with Jesus than we do about our work for Jesus?

Slowing ministry pace in order to increase ministry longevity is a step forward, not backwardin fruitfulness.

Patience grows when we remember that we don’t need to see what’s coming up around the bend—we just need to fix our eyes on him. The One who invented time is never behind schedule. And in that glorious truth is the power to face anything. Even waiting.

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