Churches are planted out of a burden for real people. That burden comes from a heart that is broken over this sad world without Christ, a world without hope and without God (Eph. 2:12). That kind of broken heart comes from knowing that the world’s attempts to find joy lead only to misery and sadness (Eccl. 2:1, 2; Ps. 16:4). It comes from the personal experience of joy in knowing Jesus. This is the heart of every true Christian, but it is especially the heart of church planters.
Church planting is about joy (Phil. 1:25). Joy marks the advancement of the kingdom (Matt. 13:44). As a church planter (and Christian), you have found a priceless treasure and are willing to endure hardship and suffering so that others might find the same treasure. For me, this became a reality when I was asked to preach at a friend’s funeral in my hometown in W.Va. I looked out at the friends I grew up with and wondered, “Who will share with them where they can find real joy?” I knew there was a need for gospel-preaching churches in that area. That funeral and that question were the culmination of a several-year journey working with our church in Richmond, Va., as to whether or not God was calling us to plant in W.Va.
This was not something my wife and I had planned on doing, nor did we really want to do it. We loved Richmond, loved our church, and loved our pastors. And at that point, I had enough awareness to know there was a cost associated with church planting. The cost of church planting is that a pastor must endure and despise shame. I knew we shouldn’t expect anything different. This is how the first church was pioneered. Jesus is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. Jesus said that he would build his church, and at great cost to himself (Matt. 16:18). Jesus had to endure the cross, despising its shame, in order to build the church (Heb. 12:2). Despising shame is a real part of Jesus building his church and our participation in that work. Paul said that his shame and affliction in church planting were the glory of the church (Eph. 3:13).
When God confirmed our call to plant Wellspring Church, I was coming off the most difficult experience of my life and in ministry. After it all came to a head, the next day, my wife and I began to talk about planting a church. A major part of this difficult experience was shame. I didn’t do anything shameful, but I was being shamed for standing for righteousness (Matt. 5:10). It’s one thing to experience shame in the city, but in a small town, you and your family are in a fish bowl with everyone watching. People don’t always see you clearly—gossip and slander can fog the truth. This is what we knew God was calling us to do.
“People receive joy in Christ because planters are sent to endure shame.”—Ricky Love
We began meeting as a church in July 2020. That initial act of planting was uniquely shameful because we were one of the only churches meeting in our community. During that time, Jim Justice, West Virginia’s governor, said, “We all know that church is a place that absolutely this killer can really thrive.”1 Church gatherings were looked down upon as shameful and irresponsible. The governor said this despite the evidence showing otherwise.2 However, we were convicted by Scripture that COVID-19 did not cancel the great commission (Matt. 28:18-20) or our particular call to plant a church. These are the circumstances in which God planted our church.
One thought that I keep coming back to is, “Someone had to go through this.” Someone had to despise the shame for the joy of these people. It’s not glamorous, but neither is the cross. The reality is that there is no joy for anybody unless somebody endures the cross. This is a major theme in the gospel—death for Jesus, joy for us. This is also gospel ministry. Our ministry displays this life-and-death reality. “We always carry the death of Jesus in our body, so that the life of Jesus may also be displayed in our body. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’s sake, so that Jesus’s life may also be displayed in our mortal flesh. So then, death is at work in us, but life in you” (2 Cor. 4:10–12). This is a lived theology that church planters experience firsthand. We endure and mock shame for the glory of God and the good of others. One of the greatest joys since we planted haw been baptizing people in our community, including my friends. It’s a joy to see people who gave up on the church have their faith renewed. It was a joy to see our church despise the shame, gather in 2020, and see people baptized as a result. This is why we endure because it’s worth seeing lives changed by the gospel.
Martin Luther taught that suffering and endurance were part of the study of theology. He said, “I want you to know how to study theology in the right way. I have practiced this method myself. . . . Here you will find three rules . . . oratio, meditatio, tentatio [trial].”3 Paul reminds Timothy of this in his trials, “you followed my . . . endurance” (2 Tim. 3:10). If Jesus’s joy comes to the world through pastoral endurance, then it is essential to be trained in it (Phil. 2:22). I’ll never forget hearing one of my pastors tell me, “This was the toughest year in my life.” I’ll never forget watching how my pastors handled public slander and shame. Those examples molded me. It matters when you’re in the thick of church planting to have been trained this way. Those experiences were indispensable to the work we’re currently doing. People receive joy in Christ because planters are sent to despise the shame.
- See “At least 18 West Virginia Covid-19 outbreaks linked to church services, governor says” in CNN, October 19, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/19/us/west-virginia-covid-churches-trnd/index.html. Accessed May 27th, 2022. ↩
- See “Restaurants and Bars Accounts for Less Than 2 Percent of New COVID-19 Cases in New York” in Newsweek, Dec. 11, 2020. https://www.newsweek.com/restaurants-bars-account-less-2-percent-new-covid-19-cases-new-york-1554206. Accessed Dec. 15, 2020. ↩
- Plass, Ewald M., What Luther Says: An Anthology (St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House, 1959), 1359. ↩