From Jessica Rice, Renaissance Church in New York City
I don’t think it’s presumptive to say we all like the feeling of being helpful and feeling as though we make a difference in other people’s lives. We like the idea of someone standing on an award stage and declaring that they couldn’t have done it without us. We like the idea of changing the world with our actions. We like finding the solution. We like the idea of being the hero.
When we started our church four years ago, I had big dreams of how God would transform lives. I truly believed the good news of God’s incredible love and grace was just that good and powerful.
I also had big dreams of how God might use me to transform people. Not because I had it all together, but simply because I was armed with my theology and a willing heart. I imagined how I’d get to help people recover from all kinds of circumstances. I imagined all of the good I might do. And the outside world seemed to affirm this dream – that because I’d chosen to give myself to ministry, I had a unique opportunity to help a lot of people – an opportunity not found in many other forms of work.
As our church took shape and grew, I got lots of chances to offer listening ears, to practice hospitality, to offer grace and counsel, to ask challenging questions, to prepare meals.
I also got to learn just how messy life could be for people. There’s nothing like ministry to show you all the things people are going through – addiction, trauma, financial crisis, and grief, to name a few.
In my desire to be helpful, to find solutions, to be the hero, I assumed that if I just had the right amount of dedication and generosity and wise words taken from Scripture, I’d surely be able to help everyone to a place of healing and wholeness.
But inevitably, all of my best efforts would come up short. People wouldn’t change. Or their change took much longer than expected. This can be a reality for ministry leaders, and really anyone who finds themselves trying to help another person. Sometimes you offer your best – a place to stay, late night talks, fervent prayers, or money – and people don’t change the way you’d hoped. In those early days of our church, when my best efforts didn’t amount to things being fixed, it left me feeling discouraged and confused.
Call it naïve, if you’re feeling generous. Call it pride, if you’re being brutally honest.
Looking back, I see how I put way too much stock in my ability to fix people and their problems. There’s no doubt that God can and often does use the things we do to draw people closer to Him. We are his hands and feet, here to offer up service and prayers for those around us.
But as I served and cared for others, I also had to learn to entrust people to God’s hands. One of the greatest ways God has used church planting to sanctify me is to force me to rely on Him, and in particular, rely on His love and care for people. I’ve had to leave my savior complex at His feet.
I can listen well, pray, and share what I’ve learned from God. But ultimately, God is the one who does the work, and God is the one who loves people and cares for people way more than I do. And surely, I’ve seen God do amazing things in the lives of people in our church. And ultimately, I’m grateful that those things are way beyond my abilities and a testament to His loving hand.
At times when I start to lose sight of this and feel discouraged, overwhelmed, or anxious by all of the challenges facing the people I’ve been called to care for, I’m reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:9-10, which underscore the great ways God cares compared with the way I care:
“Who among you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him?"
This article is part of Orchard Group’s series, In Their Own Words, where we ask church planters about their experience planting a church, reflecting on what they would do differently and the lessons they’ve learned.
“Get all the advice and instruction you can, so you will be wise the rest of your life.” Prov 19:20