"The call to plant a church is a call to join King Jesus in making all things new. In this moment, from His throne, Jesus is building His Kingdom, advancing upon the darkness we encounter in everyday life. When we follow Jesus we are saved from our small missions and saved to His mission. Planting a church means calling others to know Jesus and follow Him.

My specific calling to plant a church wasn’t a lightning-bolt-from-the-sky kind of experience. It has been an increasing unveiling of His plans, where He provided the next step but not many after that. But even for those who do get the lightning type call, there are many aspects to what that call means. A calling by itself doesn’t automatically equip for the work.

My experience of following Jesus in His call meant leading me from being one of the pastors in a church in America to planting Redeemer, a church in Manchester, England. Through this process I’ve discovered that the church planter type personality (myself included) can easily use God’s call as a way of actually not engaging God. There are areas we tend to avoid, but it’s in these particular places that God wants to reveal Who He is to us who need it so desperately. 

There are two areas I’d like to focus on, and they’ve been instrumental to my calling and the planting of our church: suffering and community. No two providences of God have been more important in my life and my family as we’ve been called to plant a church in a new culture.

My father used me in a mortgage fraud scheme to make tens of thousands of dollars. He also stole my identity and maxed out two credit cards in my name. 

Suffering was the major catalyst to our call to plant a church. We had been through a horrible trial—literally, a federal trial—and God delivered us in some amazing ways. I talk a bit about this part of my life in the first episode of Church Plant, a podcast I’m producing sponsored by Union. But here’s the short version:

My father used me in a mortgage fraud scheme to make tens of thousands of dollars. He also stole my identity and maxed out two credit cards in my name. He ended up being the ring leader of an organised fraud scheme and created many fraudulent mortgages, making hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. The FBI went after him, he went missing, but was eventually found. He pleaded guilty to the charges of mortgage fraud but falsely implicated me in his crimes to get a better prison sentence for himself. That means the FBI charged me with a federal crime, one that could have meant four years in prison. As evidence was coming to light, I found out many of my family members were involved as well, some perpetrating the fraud against me themselves.

After two very long years my case went to trial and the star witness against me in my trial was my father. For two days he told the courtroom, the jury, everyone, how guilty I was and how I was in it with him. Eventually God opened his mouth and he told the truth: I didn’t know anything and was completely innocent. Four long days later the judge threw my case out, and now it’s as if I’ve never been charged.

This was a chaotic time for us as you can imagine. I was on staff at a church at the time, and one of my duties was to lead music each Sunday. My main prayer before every service was that I would truthfully be able to sing about God’s goodness, even though I often doubted it.

Then, when the veil was lifted and the trial ended, we were ecstatic. Life felt new, the world literally looked brighter, and though we were exhausted by the previous two years, we were hopeful, truly hopeful, for the first time in a long time.

What we found was that while we were in the suffering, we had no choice but to lean on God. We prayed to God. And when we couldn’t pray, we asked our friends to pray for us. We were desperate.

After God had delivered us and answered so many prayers, our next thought was this: what does it look like to trust God in times of comfort just as much as in times of suffering? During my trial we had no resource but to trust Him. The reality is, this is the whole of the Christian life! The only thing we have to offer is us asking Him to deliver us. This is what Jesus means by “poor in spirit” in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5.

When we were in the suffering, we had no choice but to lean on God. We prayed to God. And when we couldn’t pray, we asked our friends to pray for us. We were desperate.

So what did it mean for us to trust God, even when life didn’t feel desperate? For us, the answer was church planting. Not to talk about it, give towards, or resource, but to actually do it ourselves.

For me, this was an exciting thought. Daunting and with challenges, but exciting. Initially for my wife, it was more scary than anything. I tend to live in the world of big thoughts and ideas, she tends to live in the real world with concrete and practical realities. We need each other that way. 

So we felt called to go, but knew we didn’t know much about it. We wanted to learn how to plant a church without having the burden of doing it ourselves to begin with. That led us to look for opportunities where we could test out our gifts and calling. Ideally, a call is not merely individual or internal. As much as possible, there always ought to be a community speaking into it, giving external confirmation or contradiction. We needed leaders looking in, giving us feedback, helping us along this path we believed God was calling us to.

The necessity of community continued to play out as we considered moving overseas to England to plant a church. We had the leadership of our US sending church and the leadership of our UK partner church all involved in the decision making process: the fit, the timeline, the location of the plant, everything. I am so grateful to these people and can’t imagine making these decisions on our own. We really aren’t meant to! The side benefit to a community involved in our calling has been a higher confirmation. We do not doubt at all where God has placed us, and this is in large part because of the sheer amount of people we respect working with us, in on the call with us.

From our suffering to our calling to our location and timeline, the role of Christ’s community in our lives has been important. We’ve weathered a horrible trial, made sense of a calling, and have been sent out to plant a church.

The role of suffering itself has often sifted our souls, shaking us up, but leaving us stronger and more substantial than before. Through suffering, God has given us a grit and strength that we wouldn’t have been able to grow in otherwise.

Two areas (among many others) ambitious church planters attempt to avoid are suffering and community. They can both be seen as inhibitors to the mission. More often than not, they are part of the mission, part of the calling God is working out in and through us. So let’s not avoid the grace God gives when going through hard times, or the blessing that comes when His people live together in unity. It’s how God has created us, how He saves us, and How He continues to sanctify His people. It’s no wonder, then, that He chooses to plant churches in the same way."

- Greg Wilson, Acts29 Church Planter in Chorlton.

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