Previously in this ad-hoc series I wrote about the importance of patience in the heart of a church planter but took a moment to separate patience from perseverance.
Perseverance is that quality that keeps you walking when you turn into a headwind, keeps you going when you’re faced with trials and battles. It is determination to not give up or go back. In other seasons of life perseverance becomes just stubbornness.
In this post I want to unpack perseverance a little more. I’m fairly confident that all church leaders see the need for this one, but for a church planter it probably isn’t at the top of their list. Certainly a first time church planter may never have been in a situation where the leadership characteristic they most need is the ability to endure, to persevere.
I would want every prospective church planter before they get anywhere close to leading an actual church plant, to spend a day meditating on 2 Cor 6:3-11 and then when they’ve done that, to do it again.
I’ve made more than my fair share of mistakes and then some in pastoring people. I’ve brought trouble onto my own head through unwise words, stubbornness, pride and all the rest of it but this passage isn’t focused on what happens when I screw up but what happens when we are faithful, diligent and doing a ‘good job’.
There are plenty of pastors around the world for whom ‘imprisonments, beatings, riots, calamities, hardships, hunger’ are an everyday reality. I’ve church planted in the UK and Sweden so that’s not been my experience so far.
‘Affliction, slander, dishonour, sorrowful, poor (relative), sleepless nights, unknown,’ that I can relate to.
The divorce of friends will give you sleepless nights, your team’s criticisms will sting, the adulterer you’ve disciplined will slander you, the divisive can easily find their way in, the disillusioned will spread disappointment. Your income may be low enough to be stressful, you will be unknown and more quickly forgotten by your sending church than you thought possible, people you hoped to build with will leave (there’s never a good time to lose friends) and not always for reasons that make it easy to support. Death, serious illness or unemployment can rock you.
In a healthy, larger or more established church some of these shocks can be absorbed by the church and the leadership team. In a church plant they can absolutely knock the stuffing out it.
I have tried two ways of enduring and only one of those would I recommend.
The first way is to channel Winston Churchill and start saying things like,
I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.
We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender
If you take this route you become dogged and determined. You try to become the personification of the immovable object and you won’t let the ?#*@ grind you down.
There are several dangers here to your soul, well my soul at any rate. I struggled to trust people and beat an emotional retreat (heart very far from being wide open as in 2 Cor 6:11) while coming out all guns blazing in defence of this thing called ‘your church’. I fell back into the trap of believing that this church was being built on me and by sheer force of will would I pull this thing through.
Honestly, it wasn’t pretty and it certainly wasn’t healthy. Watch out.
There is a better way. Romans 5:4 is a sobering verse to consider, endurance comes as a result of suffering and this endurance shapes my character in such a way that produces hope but a hope that is set firmly in the experienced love of God and not back in my ability to endure trials.
Biblical perseverance pushes me back onto the promises of God, the victory of Christ, the hope of his eternal victory even if I suffer setbacks or defeat. It is the assurance that Jesus will build His church. It is a resting in the love of God for me through the Holy Spirit, a discovery of joy and a willingness to continue to love and be loved, that I do not fight against flesh and blood (Eph 6:12) and that I, chief of sinners, have received great grace. By God’s grace will we overcome, by God’s grace will light defeat the darkness and love overcome hate, truth defeating lies and so on.
This form of perseverance and endurance still requires that I wear my spiritual armour and stand firm, it requires and demands much of me, even to the point where I feel like I am stretched to breaking and yet even then God says my grace is sufficient. And it is, it really is. Don’t rest on anything else.