Thursday, July 28, 2016

When Church Planting feels like Church Pruning.

So, the send-off of our team to plant One Light Church in Chiang Rai, Thailand, has come and gone. What a momentous night it was, soaked with tears, buoyed with faith-filled worship and weighted with sober gratitude for this intrepid team of men, women and children who are laying down their lives to make disciples of Jesus in a nation largely unreached by His gospel.

In the words of John Piper, "Mission is secondary. Worship is primary. We do missions because Jesus is not yet worshipped by a people in a place. We do missions in order that the white-hot worship of the Son of God may go up from every nation, tribe and tongue." This is the reason we plant churches. We believe the local church is God's primary mode for making disciples; people who will worship Jesus with all of their heart, soul, mind and strength. 

Although the team have not all left yet, the sense of loss here is palpable. Dear friends who have become family are not going to be around in the same way, and while social media, skype and air travel make the world a much smaller place, we cannot know these friends in same way we did. The book of Acts, full of bitter-sweet gospel good-byes, gives us permission to rejoice and grieve at the same time at these moments. Perhaps those are the two most appropriate emotions right now; simultaneous gratitude and grief. Gratitude, because we know they are going to be planted to bear much fruit, and grief, because we feel like we have been pruned. That's the thing, isn't it? Planting a church feels like planting for those going, and pruning for those staying. Both planters and senders pay a price, but it's a very different kind of price. 

So what does it look like to care for those going as well as those staying at this time? To shift the metaphor, what does it mean to take care of both the child and the mother who has given birth? Both need to be healthy in order to survive and thrive. Our concern is for all all three of our communities who have each sent excellent people to Thailand. We can never replace the people who have gone, but we are trusting God to replenish us. As elders, we've particularly been asking God for wisdom for Southlands Brea, a community that has sent out around 150 missionaries and leaders  in the last 3 years. What mother that's given birth 3 times in 3 years would not feel a need for replenishment after that? 

Make no mistake though, the joy of new life has made it all worthwhile. We have absolutely no regrets. John's Gospel describes it like this; "A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world." (John 16:21) We have witnessed such stunning new life as we have sent people to Fullerton and Whittier, and now anticipate the same in Thailand. Even as we speak, there are opportunities opening for us in the Inland Empire too. God, by his extra-ordinary grace, is making us into a fruitful family together, and this fills us with joy. But we want to look at what it means to be this kind of fruitful family in a wise and sustainable way. Jesus' assurance to us in John 15 is that the Father prunes, not because we are unfruitful, but because we are fruitful, and because He wants us to produce more fruit!  

So, in the month of August, we will do community specific sermon series. Southlands Whittier will do a series on the Holy Spirit, Southlands Fullerton will do one on the Psalms, and Southlands Brea will do one on 'The Fruitful Church.' It will be a reminder about why we are called to be fruitful, how we recover from fruitfulness, and how we sustain fruitfulness. If you consider yourself part of the Southlands Brea family, please join us this Sunday as we begin the new series.