Recently my wife and I were able to visit with a gentleman who restored home to its original design. The home was actually a mansion, built in the late 1800’s. The mansion lost its luster through a number of events in the early 1900’s. By the time of The Great Depression the home was turned into apartments. By 1990 it was vacant, a sad monument to the past. Within a couple of years it was nearly destroyed in a fire. Our new friend purchased it and over the next 15+ years, worked tirelessly to restore it to all of it’s 19th Century glory. He succeeded. Some may even say he exceeded his task. It truly is beautiful.
As we talked with him he spoke of the hard work. His face showed the toil. He lost hair and gained wrinkles during the project. He likes the finished product by speaks reluctantly about it. As we pressed more he said something illuminating:
A lot of people like the idea of restoration. It’s romantic. But it’s also very difficult. It’s hard work.
This guy sat in a gorgeous home that he spent a third of his life working on with a sober tone of caution seasoned with a pinch of regret. “It’s hard.” he said again.
As I thought about this exchange my mind was drawn to church planting. Like restoring old homes and old neighborhoods, church planting is somewhat en vogue today. Many people are drawn to it. They want to sit in the parlor of the restored community with restored lives and say, “Look at this! It’s beautiful!” Church planting is romantic. But it is also very hard. It is costly.
Like our new friend at the mansion, there are many times when you have to recut, rework, repaint, and recommit to what you are doing. There are mornings, afternoons and evenings spent alone. There is rejection, betrayal, disappointment, and grief. This is reality when working in the restoration of broken-down lives. It is hard-work.
Many look at Mark Driscoll, Darrin Patrick or Tim Keller and say, “Hey look at them in their full-grown church plant! I can be that guy.” Yes, that is true. God can and may use you. But listen to those brothers talk. Much like my new friend they caution you against an unbalanced romantic view of ministry. They speak of the difficulties as well as the blessings. They remind us that the Apostle Paul wrote of being alone and having only a few with kindred spirit. They warn against unrealistic expectations and vain glory. Ministry is difficult.
At the same time it is worth it. I can’t help but think that my friend wanted more. He was left a bit underwhelmed by the yield of his life project. Ministers of the gospel cannot feel this. After all, when we faithfully work to plant and establish gospel-centered churches there is an eternal yield that is unquantifiable. We know that God uses the ministry for his everlasting fame and his people’s everlasting good. It is this truth that counters the difficulty and reorients romanticism in ministry.