Someone very recently said to me that if I am feeling discouraged almost daily it is a true sign I am a church planter. His words, coming from someone who successfully planted one, were a great encouragement to me. I felt less alarmed and guilty about feeling discouraged in the often crazy-quilt experience of this work-the ups and down can come fast and furious more often than I like.
I realized that a big part my struggle with discouragement comes from expectations I place on myself and what I think others are placing on me, however innocently. When they ask with good intentions, "So how is the church going?" After I sheepishly tell them where we are in the mission, what I hear in my head is, "Really, that's all the further along you are? Um, what's wrong with you? Maybe you shouldn't even be doing this? In fact, maybe this was a fool's errand in the first place. What were you thinking . . . someone like you?" I want to slink into a hole and put out a sign saying "I am so sorry-really I am." Crazy, I know, but discouragement shows up quickly to reinforce the questions, and if I listen to what I am feeling at that moment, I get bushwhacked.
A part of me, truth be told, when I hear the progress and fruit of other planters wonders why we are not making "better" progress. I know we are under-resourced which creates a constant uphill battle. I realize we are learning how to do this as we go. It is true we are working in a tough place where obstacles are formidable. There are tangible reasons to work through. The problem is discouragement often blows past those reasons and wants to lure us into hopelessness. If it can gain a strong foothold we are effectively neutralized and rendered impotent for the task.
I have to admit, sometimes I get near the threshhold of hopelessness. I can see its dark ruins staining the distance and get a whiff of the death it represents. Not good.
But not the end of the story either.
Eventually, the Holy Spirit leans in and reminds me I am being fitted for a depth of trust and faith I have never experienced. I have been fitted similarly for the ministries God has invited us to shoulder, but not anywhere near this level. There is a very real "Will you believe and trust anyway even if things get bleak or the struggle never abates? Will you?" pervading each day in Northampton. God offers steel-jawed tenacity in this struggle, big-league faith and perseverance. Oddly enough, discouragement is necessary to achieve this degree of faithfulness. I don't like that to be honest, but I know it's necessary, even desirable (even if we fail ultimately in launching imagine/Northampton in the process, by the way).
I know discouragement will continue to come from time to time. It may even knock me off my feet once or twice. No matter, I want to know the depth of faith and trust God beckons me toward. Right now trying to launch imagine/Northampton is his vehicle for creating it in me. I am going to lose some days and I am going to break through into new territory some days. My hope is that imagine/Northampton will be planted and I will lay hold ofwhat God has been working to teach me.
The right perspective in this struggle I suspect is that in all of it, God is fitting me for the "weight of glory." The endgame defines and focuses my struggle toward eternity.
I like that.