“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. . . . Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep” (Luke 6:21, 25).
I’ve been a church-planting pastor for 15 years, first in the city of Manchester and now in the rural villages of North Norfolk in the UK.
Over the course of my ministry, God has continually reminded me of my total dependence on him. But at times I’ve felt the darkness pushing joy out of my heart.
Perhaps you can relate. You don’t need to be a church planter to experience these things, but in talking to brothers in Acts 29 Europe, I’ve learned that depression, anxiety, and sadness are common—not abnormal—themes among church planters. And these experiences sap strength from the task we’ve been given. It’s possible to hold out the bread of life to others while experiencing deep hunger in your own soul. I know what this feels like.
Whatever your temperament, joy is foundational to the Christian life. And to church planting. But joy is not about a happy, easy life. In fact, true joy is forged in the furnace of trials.
Joy matters in church planting.
Here are three places I’m learning to find joy as a church planter and pastor.
1. As I Weep
Joyful weeping is not an oxymoron. Joy is a deep movement of the heart, an affection grounded in God’s love for us.
It’s important to make a distinction between joy and happiness. Happiness is circumstantial, like the pleasure that comes from eating ice cream on a sunny day at the beach. Such happiness is slippery and can vanish in a second. But joy is different. At the very least, it isn’t based on circumstances, which means it can’t be taken away (John 16:22).
Paul once described himself as “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10). Can you relate? The reality of joy in sorrow doesn’t make the sorrow easy; indeed, my sorrow often overwhelms me. But God is teaching me that it’s possible to have abiding joy through the sorrow.
2. As I Wait
The English countryside where I live is as picturesque as you might imagine. Though I know sin and suffering lurk just beneath the surface, it’s easy to let surface pleasures mask deeper realities. I can be lulled to sleep, thinking it’s just another day in paradise. But it’s not. It’s a land of deep darkness.
As we plant churches, we’re called to patient endurance. But the psalmist reminds us that our waiting and hoping is not in vain: “My soul waits for the LORD more than watchmen for the morning” (Ps. 130:6).
The Lord is coming. We may weep as we wait, but we will shout for joy when we see our King on the clouds.
3. As I Rest
I too easily mistake productivity for fruitfulness. This leads me to view rest as a reward I’ve earned, not a gift I’ve been given.
One sign that I’m not receiving rest as a gift is that I’m unable to say no to good things. Perhaps you can relate. For the last couple months, then, I’ve set aside Wednesday afternoons to spend time resting. I found I was exhausted by the middle of the week, with little energy left for our community group that meets on Wednesday evenings. I’m seeking to emulate Mary, who sat at the feet of Christ as a gift, not a reward (Luke 10:39).
All three of these lessons ground church planting in the real world. Each conveys real experiences we face on a regular basis.
We weep—our tears are a means of grace as they make us long for the world to come. We wait—with certainty that our King is coming. And we rest—because the work of ministry doesn’t finally depend on us.
Church planter, don’t forget that when Christ died, he bore our sin and sorrow; and when he rose, he triumphed over suffering and death. These painful realities have an expiration date. They will not last forever.
Our Savior has promised us lasting joy that can’t be taken away (John 16:22). May our joy abound as we plant churches for his glory.