I didn’t grow up immersed in the American dream. A house in a safe suburb, 2.5 kids, a dog—none of that. It wasn’t my life. I come from a single-parent home in a neighborhood that grew rougher with each passing year.
I’m a product of New York City public schools, where some teachers cared but others told you they were just there for a check. I had outdated textbooks and school-provided lunches where they told me pizza is a vegetable (tomato sauce, duh). But this story isn’t unique to me. It’s the typical inner-city story.
Growing up in these conditions did teach me a lot. Resilience and grit were necessary for survival. And these qualities prepared me for church planting.
I didn’t grow up immersed in the American dream.
In church planting, you will face opposition. The last thing the enemy wants is another church out there reaching people with gospel grace. Planting is hard—there will be days you want to quit, days you feel it’s just not going to work. People will come to you with many questions for which you won’t have answers. Resilience and grit enable you to keep going.
Viewed from the right perspective, every hardship in your past can be a setup for church planting. We didn’t have a lot growing up—I remember the days without electricity, the food stamps, the lack of hot water. But you know what else I remember? My mother lighting candles, using the food stamps to make Thanksgiving happen, and mixing hot and cold water to just the right temperature so I could take a bath.
Lack breeds resourcefulness. Ministry is almost always under-resourced and underfunded. Sometimes your plant will need you to just figure things out. Learning to do more with less is an invaluable lesson my childhood taught me.
Viewed from the right perspective, every hardship in your past can be a setup for church planting.
But church planting is also an isolating endeavor. Some of the loneliest people I know are church planters. I understand why. The torrent of trials can get to you—the sadness felt when success is measured numerically and your church remains small; the struggle to get your people moving and mobilized; the pressures of leadership; trying to be everything to everyone. The burdens can be crushing.
Growing up I had everything I needed, a mother who loved and cared for me, and a good group of friends. Still, my neighborhood offered a front-row seat to a lot of pain.
I got robbed. I witnessed other people get robbed. I know people who went extended periods of time without heat or hot water, all the while scrounging for food. I grew up knowing the names of the junkies and drug dealers. Mine was the struggle of being educated in underfunded and under-resourced schools. I’ve watched institutions fail the people they were designed to protect.
None of this was easy to endure. They aren’t happy memories to look back on. But God has used my experiences to teach me what it means to press on—even, and especially—when the outlook is bleak.
Many people are planting churches in areas just like this. Planters need to be acquainted with the needs around them. This involves knowing people and their pain. I know my city. I’m intimately familiar with its heartbeat. The hardships I’ve experienced in New York have created a bond with these streets.
Setbacks are no match for our sovereign God.
But here’s the blatant truth: The enemy doesn’t want to see another church planted. He doesn’t want to see you loving your city and leading people to the truth. He doesn’t want to see you get up each time the city knocks you down, or someone closes a door in your face, or when you’re feeling discouraged after another long week in ministry.
And yet, here’s an even better truth: Setbacks are no match for our sovereign God.
Joseph’s brothers didn’t realize selling him into slavery would one day save their lives. Ruth didn’t know that by sticking with Naomi she would perpetuate the Messiah’s family line. Paul never would’ve guessed that God would turn him from a zealous persecutor into one of history’s greatest gospel heralds.
No church-planting endeavor goes exactly as planned. You will hit bumps in the road. This is why we must remember that we don’t plant in our own power, but God’s. He has called us to this work, and he will equip us for it. So we press on, however discouraging the day may seem.
I’ve wrestled with my story for a long time. But I understand many things I did not understand at 16 years old. God has ordained every hard moment to prepare me for where I am now. And he continues to use the trials of today to fit me for the joys of tomorrow.
May he give us all grace to endure, for the sake of his name in hard places.