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July 25, 2017

Stargazing: Year One Lessons in Church Planting

By Muche Ukegbu

After serving on a church plant team at age 23 then planting our church as the lead pastor at 29, I have come to believe that God uses church planting as a means of sanctification for the planters as much as a means of salvation for the people the plant serves.

I know that was a mouthful. It does bear repeating though, God uses church planting as a means of sanctification for the planters as much as, if not more than, a means of salvation for the people the plant serves.

A year into planting our church, God has solidified that lesson in my heart through the litany of stories that caused joy, anger, frustration, fear, and sadness. God was working in me in ways that would directly affect our church, but that was secondary. His primary work was in me as His son, aggressively and tenderly pulling me into His heart. Rather than bog you down with the endless ways that took place, here are ways that truth encourages and challenges me now. 

Transcendence

A philosopher once mused, “Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at the stars because we’re human?” I think this philosopher was dancing around a word that’s resurging among Christendom, transcendence. Transcendence is our longing for something greater and bigger than ourselves. In his book Vertical Church, James MacDonald writes, “Deep in the soul of every human being is a longing for transcendence, created by God himself.”

In Ecclesiastes 3, the “preacher” gives us a sobering yet freeing framework for faithfulness and joy in view of eternity. In verses 11-14 he says, 

He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also put eternity in their hearts, but no one can discover the work God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and enjoy the good life. It is also the gift of God whenever anyone eats, drinks, and enjoys all his efforts. I know that everything God does will last forever; there is no adding to it or taking from it. God works so that people will be in awe of him.

Stargazing

Our hearts bend toward eternity and transcendence, leading to attempts at squeezing as much life as we can into the life we have now or taking the limits off our humanity. For me, the attempts to squeeze as much life into the life I was living showed up primarily as a subtle lack of enjoying what God was doing. Instead, I found myself moving on too quickly from the fact members were devouring biblical community and into strategizing about potential opportunities to care for more people.

In the beginning of Ecclesiastes 3, we get a poetic description of the seasons of life through the refrain, “There’s a time for …” In every unique season, God is working intentionally so that we would remain in awe of Him. In my speed to move on to the next thing, I missed out on this awe. I should have slowed down a bit and stargazed.

The driving force behind my pace was a lack of faith that God was working when I wasn’t. Though I wouldn’t say it, I had a theology of partnership with God which functionally was God working with me and not me working with Him. That distortion showed up, not just as a lack of stargazing at the greatness of God in how He was working, but also in a lack of honoring the Sabbath by resting and reflecting on how He was working.

Finding Rest

God confronted me through wiser pastors and His Word, which has brought much fruit and freedom. When planting a church, so much needs to get done, and there’s a delicate balance between stopping to gaze at all God has done and moving forward to what He still wants to do. My issues of faith affected how I navigated the balance. Yet God in His grace and mercy used that first year to work in a deeper understanding and appreciation for His faithfulness.

The fruit of that year has been invaluable in how our team leaders and I have incorporated strategic moments of celebration and rest. But more than that, I’m giving our church a healthier me who is more in tune with the heart of God. I know my limits and find tremendous comfort knowing that God has none.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Muche Ukegbu

Muche Ukegbu is the Lead Pastor of the Brook Miami, where he leads out in preaching, vision, and leadership development, helping mobilize the church to advance the gospel in Miami and beyond.

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