When the wind and waves begin to blow
Planting in a pandemic
In 2016, while still living in Australia, my wife and I felt an overwhelming burden to follow God’s call into church planting. For both of us, there never really was any opposition to the call except for the where: St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada.
Let me just paint a picture before going any further. Not only did we both feel the call to church plant, but we believed God was calling us back to Canada, to a specific city ~16,000km away, I was in the middle of Bible college, working a second job to pay tuition, my wife had just given birth to our second child and we had next to no savings.
But we had the “call!”
And so, fast forward to 2019, we’re now living in St. John’s, Newfoundland, we’re part of the Mile One Mission network, we’ve watched God move – rather miraculously – throughout the relocation stages, we’ve just started laying the foundations of Kilbride Community Church, we have some traction in the community and then COVID-19 washes onto our shores in March 2020.
Great. Now what.
“What do we do now?” I thought.
After all, we were still very early on laying our roots, doing community exegesis, building relationships and just trying to figure out what KCC would look like in this particular part of the city.
Now I’m not an experienced church planter by any stretch of the imagination, but I in no way – even remotely – anticipated church planting in a pandemic. If someone had of said to me in 2016 that we’d be doing this in a pandemic, I would have laughed and said “you’re dreaming!”
But here we are.
The storm on the sea
You know, there’s a lot of people I can relate with in Scripture and I find the Apostle Peter particularly relatable. He had a lot going for him, don’t get me wrong, but he also did and said some things that makes you want to scratch your head.
For example – we all know this story – one evening, after a long day of ministry, Jesus sends his disciples out ahead of him onto the Sea of Galilea. During the journey a massive storm breaks out. Early in the morning Jesus sees the disciples fighting against the wind and decides to walk out to them – on the water.
If you remember, it was Peter who first recognized Jesus walking towards them, it was Peter who called out to him and it was Peter who – despite all that was happening around him - trusted in his Saviour long enough to step out of the boat, onto the water and walk towards Jesus.
But it was also Peter who took his eyes off Christ when he realized how strong the wind and waves had become.
In the moment, he let his fear, uncertainty, and anxiety overwhelm him to the point where his trust in Jesus waned.
I know that’s an oversimplification of the passage but as I read it, I can’t help and relate it to church planting, especially the call to church plant.
Remember, just before Peter stepped out of the boat and walked on the water, Jesus said to him “come.” Jesus called Peter to himself.
Of uncertainties and anxieties...
One of the things I’ve noticed in my short time as a church planter is the sheer number of churches that have closed their doors. I know of a handful in St. John’s that are in rapid decline or have shut their doors during the pandemic.
Planting a church in a pandemic isn’t for the faint of heart. On any normal day doing “church” can be hard enough but toss a deadly virus into the mix, include lockdowns, physical distancing, social anxiety, fear and a whole host of uncertainties and unanswered questions and, well, the ease of planting becomes that much more difficult.
This is the reality that my team and I encountered in 2020.
And if I’m going to be honest, there hasn’t been a month where I haven’t’ had a Peter moment since the pandemic started. There have been many times when the proverbial winds of the pandemic have rattled me.
I’ve quite literally sat on my couch, head in my hands, and prayed “God, how do I do this?”
And in that quiet moment I usually hear Him say this: you can’t do this, but I can…just keep your eyes on me. Come.
The reason why I began this blog post emphasizing our call, was because sometimes in church planting, all you can do is come back to that call. When the winds are blowing and the rain and waves are overpowering, and you feel like you’re going to drown, sometimes you need to come back to the call and remind yourself who called you and what He called you to do.
The beautiful thing about this interaction between Peter and Jesus is the amazing grace he displayed towards his fear-filled disciple.
Imagine if the story had of been different. Imagine for a moment if Jesus let Peter drown, walked into the boat and said “Alright, boys, let this be a lesson. Peter took his eyes off me and couldn’t trust me with his life. Now he’s dead.” But he didn’t.
There have been many times in my short two years as a church planter where I’ve questioned what God was doing in Kilbride and how He could possibly grow a church in light of the given situation. And, as I should have expected, He’s shown me nothing but grace.
We’re still here and we’re growing. By the grace of God, we’re growing!
In this season of church planting, I now not only remind myself of what God has called us to and all the things He’d done to get us to this point, but I look at the lives He’s changing and the work He’s doing here in Kilbride.
God has been so good to us. And sometimes we need to look to the past to be reminded of where (and how) God is leading us.