Alright, so you’ve gotten a call to plant a church. You’ve prayed about it. Others have prayed with you. You feel you have confirmation. Your family is on board. And you know exactly where you want to plant. You are ready to go!
And then, it seems like everything stops.
What do you do when you are ready to leap headlong into the ministry that God has called you to do, but he seems to be saying at the moment, “Wait”? As we find ourselves in the midst of Advent, itself a season of waiting, it seems appropriate to write about one of our PlantLB planters who is in the process of exploring a command to “wait” right now.
If you talk with Dr. Joshua Smith (he doubles as a professor at Biola University) about his journey to plant, he talks a lot about learning to be comfortable with the pace that God seems to want him to move.
If you talk with Dr. Joshua Smith (he doubles as a professor at Biola University) about his journey to plant, he talks a lot about learning to be comfortable with the pace that God seems to want him to move. He feels the tension between knowing he will eventually plant a church and knowing that now is not quite yet eventually. But Joshua seems to have found a way to live at peace with that reality. He says, “Right now I’m appreciating the journey. You know, if it were up to me, I’d probably be pastoring already. But that’s not the pace I can move. But I’m, you know, I believe God’s hand is on my pace. So I rest and trust in that.”
In talking with him myself, I thought a couple things seemed to work towards bringing him to that place of rest.
The first is a desire to build a strong foundation with his family. Joshua is deeply aware of the ways that a life as church planters and pastors can negatively impact a family. And he desires to take the time that God seems to be giving him to develop a strategy for caring for his family and their relationships with each other when the time does come to step into a pastoral role.
The second is his desire to build a strong ministry team. Joshua feels that God wants him to work in both the university and in the church. This will make it impossible for him to fly solo in a teaching and pastoral role. “And having a strong team approach to ministry. I don’t think I can preach 52 weeks a year. I mean combined with the other profession, I just think I need to have a team. And having a team can be difficult because in some ways, your team has to grow out of being tied to what you’re doing. You can’t always handpick somebody or hire someone. So that is a process. And it also means being comfortable with starting very slow initially.” In many ways, Joshua sees the time he has now as space in which to build a strong team to share the leadership responsibilities of the church when the time comes to plant. He recognizes that this may take some time, but that the fruit of that slow start could be a deeply woven, unified leadership team.
Finally, for Joshua, this is a time to get to know the city. He says, “The city is like a person, you know, that you have to get to know. And when you church plant you have a vision that you can sometimes impose on the city. Don’t take for granted that you know the city as well as you think you do.” Not having grown up in Long Beach, Joshua and his family are taking this time to embed themselves in the city more fully by becoming involved with ministry in their current home church, Light and Life. They are part of that church’s new Cherry campus, and have been taking time to get to know the place where they live and want to plant.
Seasons of waiting can be some of the most uncomfortable, trying periods of our ministry. And it can be easy to grow discouraged or question the call we once felt so clearly. For some, there is a sense that periods of waiting can be used for something. For others, there may not be an obvious point to it all. If you find yourself in that space, I hope you will find some encouragement from the words of Joshua, your fellow wanderer: “Be comfortable moving at God’s pace. Because you get the call and that seems to be enough. … But the pathway to that doesn’t look as clear as the call itself. [But be] comfortable with that pace, still knowing God is in it. And to celebrate the journey, because it may be slower or quicker than you anticipate.”