Planter, Daniel Childs
“ I believe that the present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory that is going to be revealed to us…We know that the whole creation is groaning together and suffering labor pains up until now. And it’s not only the creation. We ourselves who have the Spirit as the first crop of the harvest also groan inside as we wait to be adopted and for our bodies to be set free.” – Paul Romans 8
Near the end of his career, the most influential church planter in all of church history made use of a striking metaphor as he was reflecting on the way God’s glorious redemption breaks into the world around us. The whole process is a lot like childbirth, he tells us. As far as we know, Paul was never married and never fathered any children biologically. He certainly never gave birth! So it’s especially interesting that Paul reaches beyond his immediate personal experience for this particular metaphor. He may not have been an expert in midwifery, but he’d had enough experience working with the Holy Spirit in the ministry of church planting to recognize the similarities between the birth of a new human and the birth of God’s new creation.
I’m no midwife myself. Though, as it happens, my wife is 40 weeks pregnant with our second child at the time I’m writing this. And I’m certainly no Paul. But having been in the ministry of church planting for about a year now, I can already perceive in new ways the phenomenon Paul is describing here. Like the arrival of a newborn, the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom is not something over which we have ultimate control. We pray and prepare for it, we share the news with others, we celebrate it. But it happens in God’s time and in God’s way. This is a reality for all Christian ministry, of course. But in church planting, our utter dependence upon God’s provision in God’s own time is unavoidably clear. Like waiting for a newborn to arrive, church planting demands patience, prayer, and a humble awareness that we’re not in control. And in our better moments we recognize that’s a very good thing.
Paul’s childbirth metaphor also points to the struggles involved in working for God’s Kingdom and waiting for it to arrive. Having seen my wife in labor, I know that birthing a child is no walk in the park. Neither is Christian ministry. And as Paul well knew, the ministry of church planting can be especially challenging and painful. The forces of isolation, sin, and suffering in our world don’t go down without a fight. The gospel message we proclaim often goes ignored or rejected by those we’re trying to reach. That hurts. But like a woman in labor, our struggle isn’t for nothing!
The most beautiful dimension of Paul’s metaphor here, and the reason this really is good news in spite of the pain and struggle involved, is the overwhelming joy of witnessing new life. Church planters like Paul get to be on the front lines of some of God’s most amazing work. It is an incredible joy to see those who previously had no church family and who didn’t know God’s love to find new life in a loving, affirming community of faith. Not unlike an exhausted new mother holding her precious child for the very first time, we discover in those sacred moments that the joy is well worth the struggle. That’s what makes the ministry of church planting such a blessing to all involved. It’s one vital way we work for the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom as we answer the call to be fruitful and multiply.