When my daughter was just over a year old she began a fun new habit. She would run into rooms screaming at the top of her lungs. At first it was quite terrifying. What is wrong?! What happened?! But then you would see her smiling and realize what she was screaming: “HAPPY!”
I was envious. Some people can so easily express what they feel. My daughter’s habit of running around screaming “happy” became one of my favorite things in life. There was such a confidence in it. She was happy, and she wanted Mommy and Daddy to know it. How nice would it be if we could all so willingly and clearly communicate what we are feeling?
That sounds incredibly freeing, but also terrifying. In any given moment we are captive to so many competing emotions and dispositions. As I reflect on the last few weeks, I want to identify what I should run into the room screaming if I’m to be honest about what I’m feeling. But that’s so hard. There are so many beautiful things God has taught me and reminded me of so early in this adventure. Then there are also so many difficult things I’ve come face to face with.
Planting a church is often compared to birthing a child. There is a lot of work that needs to go into preparing for a child. If you give no thought to what life will be like with a newborn before the birthday, it’s likely not going to go too well for you or the child. This is a season of preparing before the birthday. Some of that is exciting: picking a name, getting the room ready, seeing the miraculous formation of a real body come together in glimpses of the ultrasound. Then some of it is quite formidable: wondering how you’ll possibly provide for another dependent with fewer resources than ever, crafting a plan for how to shape the life of a living being with its own ever-changing particulars, and incessantly questioning your own capacity to do this.
The anxiety this generates is palpable. The lead pastor of our sponsoring church was recently discussing the challenges church leaders face that generate anxiety. The vast majority of the discussion focused on the challenge of expectations. Like with a child, we come to a church with expectations. The expectations are endless in a church plant because so much is not yet defined! We have self-imposed expectations. Our church family has expectations. The world around us has expectations. Before we drown in these expectations, we must ask: How many of these expectations are biblical?
Scripture clearly shows us who we are: we are broken and hopelessly lost in and of ourselves because of our sin, but as followers of Jesus we are rescued and adopted into God’s family with eternal hope and life because faith in Jesus has secured our salvation. So, let’s make the expectation clear for Beloved Church: we will strive to make the gospel beautiful and do everything to the glory of God with excellence, but we are broken and Christ Himself is what makes us beautiful.
We will fail regularly and not meet many expectations. But that is okay. The ultimate calling on our lives is to lovingly know God and make Him known. That is beautiful because we can do that in success and we can do that in failure. In success, we exalt the name of Jesus and celebrate His grace in bringing about that success so we can know Him and make Him known. In failure, we exalt the name of Jesus and celebrate His grace in forgiving us so we can know Him and make Him known. This is deeply personal to me: I don’t have to be afraid of failure, and I don’t have to be driven by the idol of success. The gospel really gives freedom from the anxieties of expectations.
Jesus loved us and gave Himself up for us. That is the gospel, and the gospel must be central. It must be central in all things, including our expectations. What is incredible about having the gospel central is that by keeping it in the center, it is naturally drawing us all towards each other as we gather around its centrality. When we see each other with all of the expectations that weigh on us, let’s make sure we also see and speak the gospel. That is why in this gospel-centered community, we have a place to belong, we can be known, and we can be loved.