Thirteen years ago, my wife, Samantha, and I walked into Hub City Vineyard in Hagerstown, Maryland for the first time. Within the week, we were prophesied over that we were going to be church planters and that we would become pastors. A little background for you—I was raised Presbyterian (Frozen Chosen whoop whoop), and my wife was raised Catholic, so the whole act of prophesying over someone was a foreign idea for both of us. Let alone, someone telling us we were going to plant a church. What did that even mean? To us, churches were…just there. Always had been. It was the east coast after all. Most of our buildings are older than many states, but I digress. It simply was something we did not understand, nor gave much of a thought.
Fast forward to August of 2017, and we were embarking on a 4,000-mile journey to plant a Vineyard church in Juneau, Alaska. Having sold many of our belongings, borrowing an RV and moving to a city by ourselves without knowing more than a couple of people. As William Cowper wrote, “God moves in a mysterious way”.
The idea of church planting in itself is sort of glamorous, isn’t it? I mean, here you are setting out and seemingly creating a brand new community space to share the gospel. It’s an unfamiliar place, everyone is excited for you and well, depending on the location — Alaska, sure fit the bill — it’s adventurous!
The problem is, adventure and glamour do not plant churches. Nor does it build relationships or even begin to sustain us during the hard times that you will inevitably face when you step into the vocation of a church planter. This was something we had to temper so very early on, when families, couples and individuals, who were interested in joining us, saw this as a means of living an idyllic life in Alaska.
Allusions to gardening are not lost on me, with the usage of (the admittedly Christianese term), church planting. What I do believe is important, is to point out the dependence on Jesus throughout the process. We need to constantly and consistently remind ourselves that we are merely His vessels. 1 Corinthians 3:7 sums this idea up quite nicely: “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”
One afternoon, while driving around Juneau, I was struck with the synchronicity of that thought above. There on the radio, Paul Simon’s lyrics so perfectly summed up for me what our current situation was like:
A man walks down the street
We are out on the streets of Juneau, meeting people, trying to forge relationships. But it’s different than we are used to back East—a completely different culture, which makes us feel foreign and somewhat out of place. We haven’t lived in Alaska for long, so we don’t have that credibility currency. But we see people stuck in these lives of status quo and we see those who want to feel loved, the orphans of society. Most of all we see God all around us—which makes us exclaim, “amen and hallelujah”. Only through Jesus would this city be changed.
For Samantha and me, church planting is by far the hardest task that we have undertaken. Our five-year plan went out the window almost immediately. Our patience, or more appropriately our lack of patience, has been placed front and center by God. We have had to reconfigure, reconstruct, and re-imagine what our vision is, several times over. At times, we feel like astronauts tethered vicariously to mission control while other times so close to something bigger and greater, that it overwhelms us.
Prior to moving to Alaska, one of the questions that would constantly be placed in front of us was, “why?” It’s an obvious question. I get it, probably because I’ve asked similar of others about all sorts of things that God was doing in their life. And, outside looking in, I’m sure the idea of 2 people moving across the continental United States (and Canada) to plant a church by themselves does seem off-kilter. But the answer to us has always remained the same. We never want to be at a place in our lives where we ask what might have been. We don’t want to ask what God had in store for us, nor how the Holy Spirit was going to move and use us.
So here we are—getting dirty and humbly walking with Jesus.