Finding the Kingdom During Covid 19

Finding the Kingdom During Covid 19

March 2020

I sat with a towel twisting my wet hair up on our bed, back in our master, while our worship pastor, our children's director and my husband sat no more than 10 yards away and I listened to their honest, pure, worship. Tears began to fill behind my eyes and threatened to stream down my face. The words that rang throughout my house were, "You are making all things new..." And yet, as I sat in bed with a fever and a desperation to heal quicker, I knew and loved that my church was still being a church.

In the Confusion

This time with the craziness of Covid-19 has been a whirlwind or as some have referred to as being like the movie, Groundhog's Day... over and over. Social media has gone RIDICULOUS with people now having free time to spout off their thoughts and ideas about the situation (I've seen an immense amount of good come out of our situations) but this morning... I could just be... and listen... and softly sing to my King while no one watched. Honestly, I could barely get the words out. Here's the conclusion I've come to amidst all of this chaos and disorder:

  • I've found peace where once my heart was jumbled and stressed.
  • I've been able to breathe, really breathe in, and experience pure joy with my kids daily.
  • I've been able to dig into Scripture and geek out to the possibilities I find there.
  • I've been able to worship with no one watching.
  • I've been able to spend time reaching out to my church family more regularly to ask for or pray for them.
  • I've watched my kids settle in and just be... without the crazy amount of time constraints they used to have.
  • I've been able to see all of my church family's faces via Zoom and laugh with them.
  • I've watched our church family come together in a tighter knit community to support and love on each other even virtually.

Chaos and the Church

It's not the same... we can't meet together collectively. It's not normal... we aren't allowed to worship together in the same room anymore. It's not even similar... we are spending church virtually instead of spending next to flesh and blood. But here's the thing... we are meeting separately... but we are together in spirit.

We've got to let go our our stubbornness... our resentment for how things were handled... our need to want things our way... and move into a time of healing, rest, and thankfulness that we live in a time and age where we can still meet- even if virtually.

I think back to one of the first Sunday's after Jesus' death. We find the disciples and Jesus's followers spread out all over the city of Jerusalem... hiding. Some followers had even left the city and were headed home to Emmaus. But when Jesus finally appears to them in Luke 24, they think he's a ghost. They can't even believe he's back!

The Kingdom they thought was coming... didn't.

The life they thought Jesus had alluded to- was completely upside down.

I mean- the guy they'd been following around had been preaching of a new Kingdom... and then, whelp, he was killed. And now, they were huddled in a house, just waiting for something and thinking that there was no way this Kingdom was going to happen anymore.

"Then he said to them, “Don’t you remember the words that I spoke to you when I was still with you? I told you that everything written about me would be fulfilled, including all the prophecies from the law of Moses through the Psalms and the writings of the prophets—that they would all find their fulfillment.”  He supernaturally unlocked their understanding to receive the revelation of the Scriptures,  then said to them, “Everything that has happened fulfills what was prophesied of me. Christ, the Messiah, was destined to suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.  Now you must go into all the nations and preach repentance and forgiveness of sins so that they will turn to me. Start right here in Jerusalem.  For you are my witnesses and have seen for yourselves all that has transpired. And I will send the fulfillment of the Father’s promise to you. So stay here in the city until the mighty power of heaven falls upon you and wraps around you.”

Here's what's crazy about us humans: we think we're soooo smart. The disciples thought it was all over when their Savior was killed (and who's to say we wouldn't have thought the same?) They thought the Kingdom that Jesus preached, would never rise up. And yet, it did.

The Kingdom is happening around us. I'm seeing it in the faces of people who are selflessly dropping off food on our porch so that my husband doesn't have to scramble to make dinner for all of us after taking care of us all day. I hear it in the voices worshipping from my living room. I receive it from the texts and social media messages that encourage and build me up with promises of prayer and healing. I read about it through the words of my King in scripture. I feel the Kingdom when I pray while weeping when no one is watching. It is all around us. God is with us.. even when we feel like church isn't normal. The Kingdom is here... do you feel it?

The Crazy in Church Planting

10 Years Ago...

  • We felt God tugging on our hearts in regard to church planting
  • Attended a Weekend Church Planting Q&A through Ozark Christian College

8 Years Later...

  • We felt God leading us to plant a church in a city where my husband worked
  • Realized- we would eventually have to leave our recent “home” church in order to plant God’s leading only 25 minutes away
  • Had a family uproot themselves from out of state and move into the area to help us plant
  • Got pregnant (whoops… there goes smart planning…)
  • Dreamed about where to plant, prayed about where to plant, talked about where to plant…
  • Began meeting with our team (at the time it was a total of 7 adults…)
  • Had TONS of prayer teams all over the country begin to pray for our team
  • Joined Nexus Church PlantingMichael began to be coached by an experienced church planter
  • Had our 3rd baby boy (people were not joking when they warned us that going from 2 to 3 was “a whole ‘nother ball game!")
  • I began battling post-partum depression (1st time ever… our crazy life definitely wasn't to blame… ha!)
  • Attended a weeklong assessment process with Nexus (making sure we were actually adequately prepared to plant a church.)
  • Had our first Outreach Event… and the only people that attended were… OUR TEAM. (We were literally giving hotdogs away to people that walked by our Pavilion at the park… sad.)
  • Had another Outreach that was more promising… I think there were 13 people there that were not comprised of our team??
  • Lost part of a salary that we had “in place” for our first hire due to a change in support from a church
  • Was given a warehouse and space in a strip mall for next to nothing
  • Lost 3 of our team (I cried a lot during this time) but gained 4 more team members
  • Had our first church BBQ. It was a hit and I began to have hope (not like I’d ever questioned God or anything- that was sarcasm.)
  • Gained a worship band… and we were two weeks from our “Pre-Launch.”
  • Spent an insane amount of hours:
    • Cleaning the building
    • Re-drywalling an entire room (there was carpet on the walls.)
    • Peeling glue off the cement floors (several times)
    • Primed and painted every single wall in those areas
    • Cleaning more…
    • Painting more…
    • Scraping dog urine and feces off the warehouse floor with this crazy rented floor scraper (It had been a doggie hotel. Yes, I am serious.)
    • Climbed up into the dropped ceiling in the warehouse to discover… wait for it… PILES of dog hair from a dog hair vacuum vent. Took several trash bags to dispose of it.
    • Cleaned out the ductwork (think hair…)
    • Glued down carpet squares in two rooms
    • Scoured 4 bathrooms (one with a weird shower…)
    • Procured a stage and then had to fix it due to huge holes in it.
    • Stained the concrete floor upstairs
    • Had random worship practices while sitting on the concrete floor or upside down paint cans
    • Found huge cable spools for tables
    • Borrowed a sound system… and

Take a Breath... I think that's it.

My emotions during this time? Numb. There wasn’t time to pause and think about it. It was constantly… GO…GO…GO.  And then the doubt crept in. We lost our first hire within two months. We lost most of the worship band but gained a dedicated worship leader. We lost support from those close to us. Previous friendships faded and almost ceased to exist when our lives became fast-paced with the church plant. We saw people walk in the doors, tell us that they would be back- and then they wouldn’t. On our actual Launch day, a woman stood up and walked out during the sermon. (When there’s only 16 people in attendence… you kinda notice.) And all this time, I am weeping inside, mostly because of my pride and insecurity. I wanted to run. I wanted to leave. I had thoughts of loading up my car with my children and driving 7 hours to my parents just to escape the constant drama of church planting. We (as a church) were accused of: 
  • Being too young
  • Putting our young family in danger because of the workload of ministry
  • Being egotistical to think that we could (even with God’s Help- goodness!) plant and grow a church
  • Planting a church in a city of churches
  • Trying to be too forward thinking in regards to how church should run
  • Trying to run the church like a business
  • Not giving clear expectations to our first hire
  • Not fulfilling expectations of what a church plant would look like to our original team
  • Miscommunication… a lot.
  • Unorganization
  • "Playing" church instead of being the church
I still wrestle with the pain of all those accusations. I feel deeply about this church that God grew in our hearts to plant. And because I feel deeply, most all criticism hurts. That and the complete and utter physical exhaustion of planting a church can wear on a person. But God has assured me of one thing over and over. He is there. Forever. And he hears my cry for help. No matter how many times…

Psalm 18:6-19

When I was in trouble, I called out to the Lord.
 I cried to my God for help.
 From his temple he heard my voice.
 My cry for help reached his ears. The earth trembled and shook.
 The base of the mountains rocked back and forth.
 It trembled because the Lord was angry.
 Smoke came out of his nose.
 Flames of fire came out of his mouth.
 Burning coals blazed out of it. He opened the heavens and came down.
 Dark clouds were under his feet. 
He got on the cherubim and flew.
 The wings of the wind lifted him up.
 He covered himself with darkness.
 The dark rain clouds of the sky were like a tent around him.
 Clouds came out of the brightness that was all around him.
 They came with hailstones and flashes of lightning. The Lord thundered from heaven.
 The voice of the Most High God was heard.
 He shot his arrows and scattered our enemies.
 He sent great flashes of lightning and chased the enemies away.
 The bottom of the sea could be seen.
 The foundations of the earth were uncovered.   Lord, it happened when your anger blazed out.
 It came like a blast of breath from your nose. He reached down from heaven. He took hold of me.
 He lifted me out of deep waters.
 He saved me from my powerful enemies.
 He set me free from those who were too strong for me. They stood up to me when I was in trouble.
 But the Lord helped me.
 He brought me out into a wide and safe place.
 He saved me because he was pleased with me.

Update 2020:

There's a lot of things now, looking back, that my husband and I would change if we were to go back and have a do-over. We would have prayed more firmly about our original church plant team. We had two couples join us from the beginning, and church planters warned us that our original team would leave us eventually. We were naive and thought, "No way! These are some of my husband's best friends!" One couple left us before the first year was up. The other stayed with us through thick and thin... then left after 5 years. I am grateful for both of these couples... because without them we would have never been able to get off the ground. None of us knew the depth of what we were undertaking until WE WERE IN IT. What we didn't understand was that God would send us the couples and families that we would need to survive past Year Five. These families and couples have been a complete GOD-SEND. They have been flexible... full of grace... and there for us like a true family. These are the people who I call when we're experiencing an emergency, heartache or frustration. Since this post was written, the church God planted has moved twice. We've grown, then lost people, then grown some more. We've gone through great interns and several great children's directors. But through it all, we've stayed faithful to the church that called us to plant. And we're still plugging away......Sharing Truth (through discipleship and teaching)... Giving Grace (learning to accept God's grace and give it to others)... and Loving Others (with our words and actions.)
Called Out.

Called Out.

This oneness seems to be elusive to many churches today. And I wonder if it’s because we are looking for the wrong thing when we look for a church family.

3 Pieces of Advice for Future Church Planter’s Wives

3 Pieces of Advice for Future Church Planter’s Wives

As we have planted, I've had many prospective church plant women approach me asking for advice. "What do I need to know or anticipate with church planting?" "What should I do to prepare for church planting?" This question was always hard to answer. Since I'm a person who needs to process things over time (to make sure I communicate what I'm thinking clearly), it took me awhile to fully understand what they were even asking me. When I gave answers at first, like: "It's nothing like working in an established ministry..." "It will exhaust you spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically..." "You spend most of your time on your knees in battle..."- it didn't seem to alleviate the stress in their eyes. So, I'm going to begin to compile a list of things that take precedent in your new world of church planting. Some of the things I offer, people will look at as trivial. Or too easy to say. And honestly, I don't care. After almost 5 years in the church planting world, these are things that I have found make our world easier. I have not listed them in order of importance, just as they come to me. (Because that, my friend, is how my brain works.  Slow processor-- remember?)

#1 Keep your focus WIDE

When you become so hyper-focused on one thing within the church plant, you will miss the small details that can cause trouble down the road.  As a supportive wife to your planter husband, make sure you pay attention to small details that he may miss.  If the Holy Spirit brings to your attention something that may seem trivial at the time, but could eventually blow up out of proportion, tell him immediately. For example:
  • You notice the hard line of a man's face and his condescending tone about something awry in the church... weeks later, he and his family ghost on your texts and voice mails and stop attending.
  • More and more problems with leadership within a ministry seem to be being brought to the surface. Red flags... if you will.
  • A family begins to pull away from you and circle their wagons with other families in the church. There is no disdain, only whispers of gossip from within the circle.
  • Two women clash. Their resentment of each others begins to affect their families and then, their friend circles.
  • One ministry is struggling, while another is flourishing.
  • The amount of events are killing your volunteers' aptitudes and attitudes towards ministry.
When your vision stays WIDE, you will begin to see how God is molding the plant into His Vision for it. If you have tunnel-vision, you may be a good ministry leader, but you will not be a good church planter.  Make sure that as leaders you notice those small details that can bring a church down. Constantly be scanning for problems as you move ahead towards the future. All good entrepreneurs are always looking to the future. Be present in your present, but be looking ahead to where God has gone ahead of you.

#2 Don't you dare gossip to anyone about people. Anyone.

Sorry for the super harsh vocabulary- but this one gets me frustrated. We should never open our mouth to gossip or speak unkindly of others within the walls of our church, as well as outside the walls of our church. I am guilty of this. And it does not end well. God will hold out on his blessings for you and it always affects your church... and ultimately the Kingdom. So, please, I beg you for the sake of the Kingdom- keep your tongue silent. You may think that you have that one girlfriend who wouldn't ever pass the gossip on. But guess what- it will color how she views what you are griping about. She will start to watch that person/ministry more closely and have more things to add to your fire. And when that happens?  Not good... Also, don't tell me that you just share "concerns" or "prayer requests" when you just want to "talk" and make someone else look pathetic... or make yourself look better.  Get over yourself. If you truly want to help someone out by asking for prayer for them, go to the source and ask permission. Then ask what they want to be shared. Be respectful of their privacy.

#3 Don't criticize other church planters or ministers in established churches.

We are all in this Kingdom-Building together. If we continue to pick apart other ministries, we are literally picking fights with our own calvary. Come on, people. It seems ridiculous right? But it happens.  So put an end to it, starting in your own church. And squash it when it happens. I mean, other churches are still the Bride of Christ... no matter how tarnished. Christ still loves and died for them. Let's instead learn to pray for each other as churches, instead of compete, gossip and tear down other Brides that God loves.  
Convicted.

Convicted.

Pain floods my heart often.   Ministry can open your eyes to the true horrors of the fallen world around us. I ask the intern, "What's the best part of ministry so far to you?" "People..." he says. "And the worst?" "The hours..." he mumbles.  My answer? People.  People are both the best and the worst part of ministry. And what's worse... is being around and knowing people's hidden secrets and then realizing how horrible of a person I am without Christ too... again.  And again... and again... I realize that some women in the church would be a better pastor's wife.  A better mother to my kids. A better bible study leader.  And a better woman.  Hands down.  But then I read something in my husband's upcoming sermon.  And shame floods me. I realize... this... this scripture is what it all comes down to in regards to life in ministry.

James 1:19-27

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.  Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.  So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.

 But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.  For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror.  You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like.  But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.  If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.  Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.
So... here's the deal. Am I listening without always having to speak back? Am I processing my answers before I quickly fire back? Am I slow to get angry or am I jumping into drama full-force? Am I listening to God's Word in regards to my life? But not just that... am I listening to His Word and then DOING IT? Or am I just listening... whether it's during the sermon or my personal study time... and then I close the Bible, sigh with happiness and just walk away? We cannot... whether we are in ministry or just attend church... cannot just let it go in one ear and out the other.  We cannot.  It's got to stick.  Otherwise... what's the point?  What makes us different and not hypocrites? So...we have to decide, "Okay... I can do this..." no matter how scared you might be with what God is asking us to do. Can we do it? It's gonna be hard... but I think we can. What is He asking you today?  
Working Through Forgiveness

Working Through Forgiveness

In the realm of planting, I've been forced to learn a lot about forgiveness. In the past 2 and a half years, I'm positive that I've emotionally injured people... and I know that I've been hurt by several people as well. In fact, I'm wrestling with forgiveness right now.  It's a constant in my life now. The following is a stab at trying to help me process through the forgiveness process.  (Bear with me, please!) I have to forgive myself.  I need to forgive my family for words that cut and cling to me. I need to forgive those who walk through our church doors and hurt me unintentionally. I need to forgive my friends who forget to check in sometimes. I need to forgive those who gave our church "a chance" and then walked out the doors to look for "another church." I need to forgive those who don't make it to church every week even though many have given up several hours to prep the church, write the lessons, practice the songs and turn the heat on. (Which sometimes doesn't happen in time...)

People are Imperfect. Us Included.

This is not a new concept.  We all acknowledge that no human who has ever walked this planet (besides Jesus) is perfect.  If we acknowledge our own imperfections (like my imperfection of feeling left out), we need to realize others have imperfections as well. They may be subtle or out in the open... imperfections can be sneaky (like ninjas... as my 6 year-old would tell you.) C.S. Lewis was spot on in this:

". . . you must make every effort to kill every taste of resentment in your own heart—every wish to humiliate or hurt him or to pay him out. The difference between this situation and the one in such you are asking God’s forgiveness is this. In our own case we accept excuses too easily; in other people’s we do not accept them easily enough."

Knowing Lewis' quote (and fully understanding it) should allow us to give each other the grace we need.  Grace for their imperfections. Grace when they don't call. Grace when they use words that seem harsh or ignorant to you. Grace when your church doesn't measure up and lead enough bible studies. Which leads me into my next point...

Give Grace to Those Who've Hurt You

This part is what really scratches at you.  When someone has walked away from me with frustration... my heart first becomes hard with anger... then quickly turns to sadness.  I don't last long in the anger stage... God has graced me at least with that.  But the sadness sticks to me-- for days, weeks or even months.  Every time you hear their name or see them, your insides will bristle (and mine undoubtable crumbles.  I usually run for the hills and hide from everyone so that they cannot see it written across my face.  I evidently can hide nothing.).

This is hard. It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single great injury. But to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life—to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son—how can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night ‘forgive our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.’ We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it is to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves. There is no hint of exceptions and God means what He says. (C.S. Lewis)

We must forgive others, when we ask God to forgive us (Matthew 6:14).  With the softness of forgiveness in our hearts (no matter how hard it was to forgive), God is able to mold His love back into our hearts to love others the way that He loves us.

Give God your depression or anger.

Ask Him to soothe your wounded heart and heal it wholly.  This is something that you need to ask Him daily. Beg Him for forgiveness in the situation and allow Him to mold your heart into something that looks more like His. With all this talk about forgiveness... I wonder.  How could He, the God of the Universe, forgive us?  Us- petty humans with self-righteous and self-interest at heart.  And not just us-- how could He forgive me?  I mean, I'm "supposed" to be this woman of God who is standing by her man, bringing people to Christ and serving others with not a thought of myself.  Ha!  I am NOWHERE close to that... (as you saw earlier in my post.) I am guilty of being self-absorbed.  I am guilty of laziness.  I am guilty of not wanting to reach out to others and I am guilty of wanting to stay at home with my family when a church event is going on.  I am guilty.  But... I am forgiven. So, why is it so hard to forgive others? Maybe it's because of everything that we are guilty of.

"We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

If we have the power to love within us... we must have the power to forgive. I love the verse in Colossians 3:13, "Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." Why do I love this verse?  The very first part: "Bear with each other..."  It reminds me that we are not alone on this earth.  Jesus established the Church before he left for heaven. The Church is here for us... it is our family... our connection...  something to lean on. Something to help you press through the harder times.  
Hum-Drum

Hum-Drum

There are cloudy patches in church planting.  The clouds roll in; but it doesn't rain. The air gets thick with humidity, your hair frizzes and suddenly you have curl in your otherwise straight hair. The cloudy nothingness seems to be burdened with dark waters just waiting for something to set them off. You hold your breath waiting for the clouds to burst and pour upon your dry soil. And then nothing happens. Just like life, huh. And all I can think is... why now? Why, when we were just picking up steam? People were actively seeking God out... families were finding healing... lives were being changed because of Jesus' sacrifice. And then... nothing. It is so frustrating.  And disappointing. And in these moments, I ask God, "Why now? What is the point of this cloudy nothingness? Is there a storm brewing? Do we need to hunker down and prepare for battle? Or is harvest around the corner?" (Can you tell I struggle with impatience? And the need for control?) He whispers, "Wait. Abide in Me." Because at the end of the day... week or month... that is all we can do. Wait for Him and His timing. And most importantly, abide in Him.
John 15:1-4, “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.  You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you.  Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.
Isn't that what it is all about?  Realizing that we do not have control over this church plant and its success or fail. Realizing that it is and has always been His Church. Knowing that He can see all and knows all. And TRUSTING in that. Resting in His Presence with our thoughts and actions... and running to Him with our questions and thoughts.
 John 15:5-8,“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.  Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned.  But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted!  When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.
Am I trusting? Am I truly abiding?
John 15:9-17, “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. This is my command: Love each other.
And here is my answer: In the cloudy times of nothingness...
  • Remain in Christ.
  • Realize, He chose and appointed us for this.
  • Love one other.
Now, to actually do that...