The sun doesn’t shine much in Portland, but on this day the clouds surrendered and the boggy playground near our Portland suburb exploded with color, warmth, and my daughter’s excitement. Bailey was 10 years old, and a 10-year-old girl has the ability to ride a small bicycle faster and with more daring than any grown man on the switchbacks of the French Alps. My wife and I didn’t see her coming as we walked towards the bright green park, but we heard her. The doppler effect meant the sound of her bike chain straining against the gears multiplied as she powered towards us. She flew between us, separating our stroll with a swoosh.
Sunshine had combined with the ever-present rain to cause the grass to grow tall at the edge of the park. Tall enough that she never saw the cinder block in her path. The back wheel of the little bicycle bucked into the air almost as high as Bailey flew through it. Almost before she hit the ground, I heard the familiar gasping of a child who just had the breath knocked out of her.
When I think of how church planters deal with discouragement, I think of the church I planted in Portland. There is some sunshine, some cloudy days, and a lot of rain. But that stuff is built into the plan. Church planters are typically prepared for discouragement and are generally the kind of people who simply keep pedaling through the haze and capitalize on the sunny days. I suppose there are some tips that are helpful for dealing with discouragement, but most planters won’t need them. They are used to pedaling through.
As I have the opportunity to coach young planters, it’s not discouragement that I want to prepare them for, it’s the complete loss of courage, de-couragement, or un-courage. What do you do when there’s not enough courage for the crash? These are three things that you don’t want to hear and one you do.
It’s not a shock that it happened to you.
Post cinder block, gasping for their breath, church planters simply can’t believe “this is happening to me.” It feels like the earth has dissolved like snow. Whether it’s a result of their sin, sin against them, or just an unavoidable brick in the road, our shock tells on us. It tells that we have stopped counting our blessings and started counting on them.
It’s going to take more than you have.
Once the planter accepts the idea that the world and (apparently) God is okay that “this is happening to me,” he will want to get things back to normal. He wants to breath normal, feel normal, and get back on that bicycle. He accepts that it has happened and is mustering his courage to get through it. He’s used to giving “whatever it takes.”
The truth that most planters do not want to hear is, God has a way of using these cinder block moments to take just a little more than you have. The crash is designed to bring you to the end of your ability, intellect, emotion, and even relationships. It is not a safe and easy thing to be brought to the end of yourself. The threat extends to the church, to the family, and to friendships. A price will be paid by each and often they do not survive.
It’s more of a class than a test.
Once a planter stops being shocked that terrible things can happen to him and gives in to the idea that no matter how capable he his this will require more than he has, he starts to ask, “How long, oh Lord?” They are no longer trying to avoid the crash because they accept that “this is happening to me.” They are no longer under the impression that they will beat this thing because they see that it is designed to take them past their capabilities. Now, they simply want to learn what they need to learn, grow how they need to grow, and put this thing behind them. The truth that planters need to hear is, you can’t take the final exam until you have been through the entire course. There is no fast forward button on the school of suffering.
This won’t last forever.
Suffering is for a purpose. That means it’s not shocking that it could happen, it’s going to take more than you have, and it will likely take quite some time to fulfill that purpose. But it also means that once the purpose is fulfilled, your suffering will end.
As the Israelites plodded through the wilderness, Moses warned them about the end of suffering in Deuteronomy 8. He told them that because suffering is not forever we must be prepared to not return to the old patterns or forget the Lord. In a sense, he tells them that “getting back to normal” is the enemy of God’s purpose for his people.
The same is true for the planter. The purpose is not to make it through suffering and get back to normal, the purpose is to be changed into the image of Christ. Don’t let your suffering go to waste.