The church member had just punched me in the mouth. Blood gushed from my lip down my shirt. With my hand pressed to my mouth I mumbled, “Be as mad as you want, but we still have to find you another place to live.”
My attacker had suffered deeply and lived on the streets for years. He was the first person baptized in our church plant, a friend I’d invested in who was walking away from the faith. The conversation about helping him find a safe place to live and return to the church family devolved from there. I went home heartbroken. This encounter is a small taste of the painful journey of disciplining him out of the church after a false teacher lured him away.
As a planter near Detroit, Michigan, I’m convinced that church planting in hard places will bring trials to your door faster than Amazon Prime. Knowing the trials are coming is one thing; responding with joy is another:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2–4)
Church planting in hard places will bring trials to your door faster than Amazon Prime.
So how can planters in hard places maintain joy? I’d like to suggest we begin by understanding that joy is, essentially, a settled contentment in God’s plan. Joy believes God is unquestionably good and intentionally working for our good. The joyful church planter has already settled his hope and trust on God’s grace toward him and his ministry. He’s satisfied with God’s ways and plans.
Brothers, if we want to be joyful as we plant churches in hard places, we must commit to three settled contentments.
1. The Father has good plans for us.
Amid hardship, it’s easy to doubt the goodness of God’s plans. We question whether we have a good Father; we sit dumbfounded at how he could give adversity and call it “good.” Maybe a core team member’s praise turns to slander, or a ministry partner decides not to renew support. Perhaps a loved one is diagnosed with cancer.
The pursuit of man’s approval is a joy-thief.
The possibilities are endless, but the temptation is the same. Will we trust that God’s plans are good, or will we doubt him when all we see is evidence to the contrary? No matter our circumstances, we can be joyful because a good God sits on the throne (Ps. 56:9).
2. The Son won good on our behalf.
Through his earthly life, death, and resurrection, Jesus won God’s approval for all who repent and believe: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).
Because we already have our Father’s approval, we don’t need to scramble for the approval of others. Indeed, the pursuit of man’s approval is a joy thief. Church planters must commit to being confident in the approval Christ has won for us, in spite of us. Chasing any other applause is a sure way to kill our joy.
3. The Spirit works good in and through us.
Church planting isn’t fast and furious work. People don’t sanctify on a schedule. Ministries, programs, and services never run as smoothly as we dream. It’s easy to become defeated. Many church planters slide into the “church half-empty” phase. We must daily determine, then, to trust in the Holy Spirit’s effective labors in us and through us.
If you’re busy planting churches, you’re busy meeting trials as you go. And yet the presence of trials does not equal the absence of joy.
The Spirit dwells within us (1 Cor. 3:16), equips us to kill sin (Rom. 8:13), empowers us for mission (Acts 1:8), and more. The Spirit is the one planting churches, the one sanctifying. Because he is working even when we can’t see him, we should rely on him in all our disciple-making endeavors.
Wherever God has sent you in this world, if you’re busy planting churches, you’re busy meeting trials. And yet the presence of trials does not equal the absence of joy. Fellow planters, the biblical call to joy is for us. Whether we’re getting punched by a church member or ridiculed by our community, joy is ours for the taking when we’re settled in the goodness of God.