When Ministry Is (Way) Harder Than You Expected

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Acts 29: Churches Planting Churches

Wiped out from another full Sunday of ministry, my wife and I sat down in our living room and began to reflect. “Why is this so difficult for us?” she asked. I looked away—fighting back tears—and quietly uttered, “I don’t know.”

We recounted more than a decade of triumphs and trials in ministry. This church plant that was birthed in 2016 is, by God’s grace, healthy and beautiful. But it has cost us greatly. Often it feels like we’re still experiencing birth pains long after the delivery.

Certain Uncertainty

After a few years living in a neighboring suburb, I dropped a bomb on my unsuspecting wife. I told her I sensed the Lord leading me to leave my full-time job to complete a church-planting residency. This would require raising financial support for more than one-third of my salary and moving our family back to Detroit.

As you can probably imagine, she felt an array of emotions: flabbergasted, frightened, and furious (to name a few). Being highly analytical, she replied with a series of arguments as to why this was a bad decision. But, after much prayer and counsel, we decided together to proceed.

That evening was the catalyst to several years of turbulent transitions: moving to one of Detroit’s most notorious hoods for my residency; losing several thousands of dollars in salary and quality health care; relentless traveling to raise support; opening our lives to people who may desire to do harm to us; abruptly uprooting my children from all things familiar; further engaging with those in extreme poverty, relational brokenness, and abuse.

Our only certainty became uncertainty. Even now, just two years after our church was planted, we’re on a similar journey.

Don’t get me wrong, I knew the cost would be high; I just didn’t know it would be this hard.

Ministering in my community means financial lack ever looms like storm cloud, and it often rains hard. Almost two years in, we still lack many of the people and resources other churches would have by this point.

Our church has had break-ins, cars stripped, and has been extorted by those we lease from. Words can’t express the unpredictability that comes from living and ministering among those whose lives are consumed with chaos.

Domino Effect

While there have been many surprises with planting a church in a hard place, the main thing I miscalculated was the toll it would take on my family. No amount of date nights and family outings could minimize or overshadow the cost my wife and kids have counted.

I’ve wrestled with (and occasionally still do) sadness and regret because “sorry, we can’t afford that” is a more common response than I’d like.

Don’t get me wrong, I knew the cost would be high; I just didn’t know it would be this hard. My kids have lost some of their childhood innocence from seeing human depravity on full display. We’ve had friends of theirs stay in the house with us, because their parents didn’t have a place to live. They’ve seen the same kids move away because their parents are now incarcerated. My kids were weeping when I returned home one evening after having been falsely arrested—just two miles from our house—for allegedly attempting to purchase marijuana. They’ve prayed with my wife on multiple occasions because I was in potentially dangerous situations. They’ve been exposed to matters many adults will never encounter.

I can’t articulate what my wife has endured the last few years. Church planting has cost financial security, our previous home, forfeiting ideal educational and recreational opportunities, and countless days without her husband.

On several occasions, I’ve considered quitting.

She has shouldered a huge load in discipling other women while managing our home (in the midst of moving multiple times and other life transitions). On several occasions, I’ve considered quitting because of the toll this has taken on her.

Sustaining Grace

In spite of it all, the Lord has kept us. Why did we pay this high price? Because Jesus is worth it. More than worth it.

Years ago, the Lord etched these words in my heart:

For the love of Christ compels us, since we have reached this conclusion: If one died for all, then all died. And he died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for the one who died for them and was raised. (2 Cor. 5:14–15)

Love drove Jesus to pay an infinitely high price for sin. He humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death (Phil. 2:8). For the joy set before him, he endured the cross (Heb. 12:2). And on the cross, he bore our sin and credited his sinless righteousness to us (2 Cor. 5:21).

Church planting in a hard place has been costly, but when my wife and I consider the costs in light of all we have in Jesus, can we really say we’ve made a sacrifice?

As the missionary David Livingstone (1813–1873) once said, “If a commission by an earthly king is considered an honor, how can a commission by a heavenly King be considered a sacrifice?”

‘If a commission by an earthly king is considered an honor, how can a commission by a heavenly King be considered a sacrifice?’

Like Paul, we concluded that we would be willing to part with anything the Lord requested, because he, in unfathomable love, held nothing back for sinners like us.

Christ is worth any earthly loss we incur. In him, we gain unsearchable riches (Eph. 3:8) and are lavished with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms (Eph 1:3).

My story is simple. Like our Lord’s parables about the precious pearl and the hidden treasure (Matt. 13:44–46), my wife and I have concluded that his kingdom and glory are worth it all.

We’re not heroes. But we do serve one.

Editors’ note: 

To read more on the topic of pain and faithful endurance in ministry, check out The Gospel Coalition’s new book, 12 Faithful Men: Portraits of Courageous Endurance in Pastoral Ministry, edited by Collin Hansen and Jeff Robinson, featuring profiles of pastors such as Paul, John Calvin, Wang Ming-Dao, Janani Luwum, and Charles Spurgeon.

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