Editors' note: The following post from Rev. Brad Mills is part 3 of a blog series in conjunction with 2014 Mission Conference at FPC Jackson. You can read part 1 here: "First Month of Ministry at RUF Belhaven", and part 2 here: "Am I Missionary?" Brad is a Mission to North America church planter who previuosly served as an intern here at FPC Jackson while in seminary. In 2012 Brad, his wife Carrie and their four children moved back home to Clovis, California to plant Grace Clovis Presbyterian Church.
My mom tells me that when I was born she would hide my face in public. True story! She couldn't handle the grimacing looks people gave when they saw me. Apparently, I was so hideous that she took very few pictures of me as an infant. This was mostly due to a massive stork bite that rested right between my eyes. I know you're thinking, "O bless his heart." Thankfully, I can't remember a thing. I have no recollection of all the attempts my mom made to smother my face before anyone could get a glimpse of the horrible sight that was me. And frankly, I don't blame her, I've seen the few photos that exist.
Maybe you haven't dealt with the humiliation that results from having a stork bitten child, but all of you have experienced the awkwardness of life at some point. The various phases of growing up offer plenty of fodder. Adolescence takes no prisoners. Eventually, you come to the realization that no matter how hard you try you will regularly find yourself in awkward situations. Just the other day I asked someone how they were doing less than 5 seconds after I had asked them that very same thing.
Church planting is full of awkward moments right from the start. Telling people what I do is often followed by the befuddled observance that there must be some church out there who needs a young pastor, as if church planting is only for those who couldn’t find any "normal pastor" positions. Even the simple question, "Where do you meet?" has to be answered with a 3 minute explanation that while we meet in our home, we do not serve any grape Kool-Aid. And we haven't even gotten to the common follow up question, "What is a Presbyterian?"
Now let’s suppose we make it through the introductory conversation and the person is still interested in visiting our church plant. We now face the challenge of introducing them to several strangers who are overly eager to make them feel welcome. Let’s face it, there is no way around the awkwardness of shaking hands with people who can’t stop staring at you. If the new prospect hasn’t run out the front door by then, they will undoubtedly find it rather odd that Presbyterians believe singing is nothing more than mumbling below a whisper so no one hears the person next to them.
Along with most Americans, people in our city are becoming more and more private. Their family life is private. Their homes are private. Their religious preferences are private. Since our church meets in our living room, privacy is impossible for anyone to maintain. There is absolutely no hiding. You can’t show up and disappear into the crowd. This can make for some uncomfortable scenarios, especially for those who are more introverted.
Add to all of this the fact that our church plant meets in a city with an extremely high rate of ethnic diversity. Not only is interaction impossible to avoid, it often takes place between people who bring their own cultural distinctives with them. Even though I have grown up in the Fresno/Clovis area all my life, there are several aspects of the various ethnic communities that I’m quite unfamiliar with.
Despite the many challenges we face, we love what we do because…
- We get to plant a new PCA in a region with such a great need for more churches. There are roughly 4.2 million people living in the central valley of California (below Sacramento and above Los Angeles) and there is only one PCA. Grace Clovis will be the second.
- We get to do ministry alongside some amazing folks. One family, instead of taking a job promotion and moving to Minnesota, has committed to help with the church plant. Another family has become excited about attending church after over a decade of absence. Then there is the family who had been attending the same church for 15 years and after coming to Grace Clovis for a month told us, “we no longer feel like strangers when we go to church.”
- We get to be a part of fulfilling the great commission, not neglecting to train up disciples who make disciples.
- We get to watch the Lord bring awkward people together in awkward circumstances to do the work of building his church.
- We get to praise our God as we witness him do something only he could do!
Not everyone is called to church planting. But living like a Christian in a culture that is increasingly antagonistic towards biblical beliefs invites frequent grimaces. You might as well have a stork bite right between your eyes. Your only options are hiding your Christian identity, smothering your beliefs in shame, or persevering through the awkwardness. Reading through the Old Testament provides several examples of the ways in which God chose awkward people, placed them in awkward circumstances in order to work his sovereign will.
Hebrews 12:1-2, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
The joy that awaits those who persevere makes any awkwardness we endure now insignificant by comparison.