The beginning of 2013 has not been easy for me. It's actually been quite hard. But it has also been exactly what I need.
Before the Christmas season descended upon us, we had a prayer gathering in the UBC Robson Square (above). Several of us gathered together to pray for Vancouver, for St. Peter's Fireside, for the Church at large. I shared the vision God has given us for St. Peter's, and talked about what commitment to this vision would look like. In actuality, I merely painted a picture of what I think commitment to any community of faith should look like. I asked people to take the holiday season to pray over the vision and to ask God if this is the vision He is calling them towards. It was an inspiring night, and I went into the holiday season with a little cloud of awe floating over my being.
Julia and I have been back in Vancouver for a week now, and over the past week I have started to meet with people from our community. Many feel God is leading them to commit to the vision of St. Peter's Fireside, but more importantly they feel called to commit to the community that is forming. After all its not just about vision, its about the people God is bringing together to worship him. Others, however, feel that God is leading them elsewhere. These have not been easy conversations for me. If I'm honest, each one has sort of felt like a breakup. Throughout the week, I have felt like a pendulum swinging from fear to peace, anxiety to calm, and distrust to faith. This has been the hardest week of church planting yet. It is hard to let people go. It's emotionally hard, that is for sure. But it is even harder on my ego. There have been moments where I can't help but feel like I'm failing.
But despite my anxiety, throughout the week I have felt God relentlessly pursuing my heart, whispering to me "Whose kingdom are you building?" The kingdom of numbers, attendance, plans, milestones, and the like is more often than not my own kingdom. Part of me wants people to stay with us because I want to feel a sense of accomplishment, I want to measure my success in numbers. This is nothing short of sin. This is building my own kingdom.
But do you want to know what is amazing about people leaving St. Peter's? They aren't leaving for bad reasons. They are actually leaving for really, really good reasons. One girl feels God is calling her to commitment to the neighbourhood she lives in (which isn't downtown). Another couple feels the same way, choosing to focus on their local church while also telling me that they didn't know Christians community could exist as they experienced it at St. Peter's. Each person is responding to what God is telling them to do. They are taking steps of faithfulness, and this is a massive victory in God's kingdom. I have had to continually anchor myself in celebrating the faithfulness of these people. It hasn't been easy, but letting my own little kingdom die so that I can participate in God's kingdom has been so good for me. We are not in Vancouver just to build our own little church, we are here to serve Christ's Church.
There are two things God has done to comfort me through this challenge. First, back in November I got an email from a close friend who prays for me regularly. He wrote, "I don't want you to get discouraged or dismayed if things don't go according to plan in any area of your life. I strongly sense that God may thwart some of your planning the way he thwarted Gideon's planning. I believe that he wants you to know, not just in your mind, but in your heart that he is the one that is working this victory." This certainly seems to be prophetic and true at this point. I have to keep reminding myself that it is God who builds his Church, and not Alastair Sterne. But I have also taken comfort in being reminded that God isn't surprised by any of this, and that God knows what he is doing. Secondly, as I was writing this update my phone rang. It was another pastor from the Vancouver area whom I had never spoken to. He has been following us online, reading our blogs, and got my number from our site. He called because he just wanted to encourage me and thank me for the work we're doing in Vancouver. Such a simple, yet thoughtful act encouraged me deeply.
Despite how it may appear, this is not a set back. God is building his church at large, and we are playing a part. At the same time, our little slice of his church is deepening, and our community is continuing to look more and love more like Jesus. While the changes and challenges along the way rock me from time to time, I feel the Holy Spirit telling me "I am with you in this." So, this is where I am at in the moment. I still oscillate back and forth between my fears and trusting in God. But I am learning, more and more each day, to let God be my strength and to boast in my weakness. I am learning to repent of wanting to celebrate my own success, and learning to celebrate God's glory.