It’s 4 A.M. on move-in day. A couple packs up their car to drive their youngest child to college. Later that day they will unload and carry lots of luggage and dorm room furniture, get back in their car and drive home. They will try to hold it together as they say goodbye to their son or daughter knowing they won’t see them again until Thanksgiving break, but the floodgates will open as soon as they are back in the car.
For 18 years, this couple has lovingly raised their child. During the high school years, the parents encouraged their student to work hard in school but to also consider “what they wanted to be when they grew up.” Seemingly, every teaching moment, every correction, every instruction was leading up to move-in day. This couple has poured their lives into their child so they could send them off confidently into the world. They are thrilled to see their child take these initial steps of independence. This doesn’t lessen the reality that—even though mom and dad only traveled ten minutes down the road—they already miss their child.
the pain of sending
A few months ago our church sent two families to plant a church. And it hurts.
We can look back now and see God preparing them over the years. The lead planter went through our leadership pipeline and served in a major role on our staff team for four years. He and his wife spent time overseas and helped our congregation minister to international students at the university. His co-planter was with us from the early days when we were a young church plant, fresh in a new community.
These families were such a vital part of the health and vitality of our broader church family. The wives, disciple-makers in the truest sense of the term, invested in countless families in our community by opening their homes and coming alongside their husbands’ ministries. At church-wide picnics and gatherings, they were the families that brought people together—they really made people smile.
We didn’t merely love these families—we needed them. If I may be practical for a moment at the risk of sounding callous, while we truly miss having them around and enjoying their company, we really miss what they brought to the table. They were movers and shakers for our ministry. They recruited. They mentored. They trained. They did the dirty work—the thankless acts of service we all take for granted. They were the families we could point to and say, “be like them as they try to be like Christ.”
Again, sending hurts. But now, by the grace of God, they get to bless others!
the promise of sending
While we wish they were still with us, we are comforted by this reality: God will build His church. And we know that’s better.
Consider for a moment the most devoted and loyal members in your church… What would happen if you shared them with others? If you sent them to another city? Chances are that city would be blessed in ways you can’t even imagine. There is a reason Jesus speaks of the deficit of laborers in the harvest—He wants His church to meet that need. Many churches find themselves operating like industrial grain mills—always expanding the operation and growing more efficient but missing out on expanding the reach of the business. Certainly, there is value in process improvement at the grain mill, but at the end of the day, going to gather more wheat always equals more grain.
We see on every page of the Bible God acting to bring about His purposes. If He wants His kingdom to expand rapidly in one city while halting the plans of man in another, so it will be. “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases,” says Psalm 115 (ESV). Yet sometimes we find ourselves projecting our limitations upon God. If we send our best people, won’t our church collapse? Won’t our giving go down? Our baptism numbers?
This isn’t to say God is only concerned with moving the needle forward with new developments. Or to say that once He gets your church to plant, He will move on to bless the new church instead of yours. This, even this, is a narrow view of God’s building activity. No, God will likely use your church’s sacrificial sending to stir up a revival of sorts in your congregation. It’s the mentality of “Next Man (or Woman) Up!” God sometimes sends leaders away to open opportunities for new ones. Whereas you may perceive your church has become weaker, consider instead how God might be fortifying you from within. Giving away your best resources—your people—could be the best thing for your church’s health and growth.
the joy of sending
Sending hurts, but sending is also joyous.
Sending these families hurt then, and now several months in, it still hurts. But we know it’s right. The pain of their absence doesn’t compare with the excitement and anticipation we have for how God might use them in the coming days to bless countless others. Our church has been blessed to plant a few churches but we know the harvest is still plentiful. We hope God continues to soften our hearts to the need, open our hands and send our best so that His kingdom may grow.