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Why Church Planting Is So Hard

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Planting a church in Boston is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s cold. It’s expensive. And people don’t want us here. It’s like we’ve started a business that offers a product everyone needs but no one wants.

The same is true for hard places all over the world.

You won’t just be disliked and ignored; you’ll be hated and opposed. Church planters, therefore, must be prepared to withstand opposition from three directions: outside, inside, and above the church.

Opposition from Outside

I knew planting in Boston would be hard. I was aware of the stats. But I wasn’t prepared for how this opposition would affect virtually every aspect of life—from the struggle to reach sustainability to the seemingly impossible task of finding a space to rent for corporate worship.

It’s like we’ve started a business that offers a product everyone needs but no one wants.

And the direct opposition we’ve faced only makes these realities more difficult to endure. So, you’re planting a church? What kind? Open and affirming? You don’t really believe Jesus is the only way to God, right? Surely you don’t believe in hell?

But the “raised eyebrows” aren’t so bad. What’s taken getting used to is the outright hate. I’ll never forget the letter I received a couple years into our church-planting journey.

“Jesus. Is. Evil.”—written in bold letters across the top of the page. The anonymous author wasn’t happy about our presence in the city. Here’s a small taste of the letter’s content, “If god exists, then god is evil; and, therefore, god does not deserve respect in any way, shape, or form. If this honest observation means I will be eternally punished, then at least I can rest assured that, as I burn, I will be in good company.”

Initially, this letter haunted me. How could someone be so against us? Why do we have to endure such opposition? But then I was reminded of the words of Jesus: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18).

I’ll take hostility over indifference any day.

I’ve come to take heart in the fact that this person knows we’re in the city. I’ll take hostility over indifference any day. And the opposition has given me fresh appreciation for Jesus’s words in the Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt. 5:11–12)

In the same sermon, Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). I’m learning to receive the blessing of being reviled while praying fervently for those who oppose us.

Opposition from Inside

Opposition from outside the church stings; opposition from inside the church devastates. I’m used to having people storm out of worship services because the Scriptures offended them. I’m used to getting chewed out for holding to orthodox beliefs. But I don’t think I’ll ever get used to self-professing believers who sow discord among God’s people.

Opposition from the outside stings; opposition from the inside devastates.

The apostle Paul warned the Ephesian elders, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29–30). The most dangerous wolves don’t look like wolves. They look like the sheep you’ve tended, fed, and loved.

You see one sheep stray from the flock. Then another. You begin to notice a pattern. They were all part of the same community group, with the same leader. Someone you’ve loved and cared for has been drawing away disciples after them.

And most don’t leave quietly. The emails usually begin, “Just a few parting words of advice . . .” Lately, much of the internal opposition has been about sexual ethics and/or gender issues. You better know the Scriptures and be prepared to defend the truth. No wonder Jesus warned, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16).

The deepest wounds are often caused by those who were once members of your church. Perhaps your families were close, but they’ve decided to leave. You get an email like this: “While church planting is a good vision, it’s not what we want in a church.”

I’ve never been a super emotional guy. But pastoring hurts.

I’ve never been a super emotional guy. I’m Russian, and I was raised in New England. It’s a miracle I can smile. But pastoring hurts. After you take a few of these emotional hits, it’s tempting to harden your heart and withdraw. Don’t. Hiding never brings healing. Only taking refuge in the Lord Jesus does. He was betrayed by those he loved, and you will be too.

To plant a church, you need thick skin and a soft heart. Though this doesn’t come naturally, we can look to Jesus, who is both fierce as a lion and tenderhearted as a lamb.

Opposition from Above

Before planting our church, I believed in the existence of Satan in theory. Now I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that Satan exists. Demons exist. They despise your church. They despise you. And they’ll do everything they can to take you out. Be prepared for bouts of depression, spiritual funks, and heightened temptations. Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might (Eph. 6:10). He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).

The god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, but Jesus opens blind eyes by the power of the Spirit (2 Cor. 4:4–6). So trust in him to build his church. The worst opposition, even the gates of hell, stands no chance against the advance of his church (Matt. 16:18)—no matter where you are or how hard it gets.

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