I laid out on the carpet, face down, and prayed, “Lord, whatever you want. Break me. I give it all to you.”
It was April 2011 at the concluding session of the Exponential Conference in Orlando, Florida. I had spent the last few days attending workshops and listening to motivating speakers talk about bringing faith to a generation of Americans that wants little to do with church as an institution. The closing speaker, a refreshingly genuine and approachable man who I regularly listened to online, Francis Chan, had just opened his heart to us telling the crowd of more than 2000 church planters why he was leaving the large, successful church that he planted. He felt too comfortable, too safe. He felt a disconnect with the life he was leading and the life he was reading in Scripture. He felt a stirring of discontent.
I sat in my seat knowing exactly what he was talking about. Just 4 months before, I left my church of 11 years for the same reason. It was a great church with lots of people, a beautiful facility and a healthy budget. We were making enough money to have both a savings and a retirement account. We were very comfortable hanging out with fantastic Christian people week in and week out.
My stirring began in 2008. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do but I simply had a restlessness. I knew that change was coming. The Great Commission “go” nagged me and would not let me sleep.
I started pursuing church planting partnerships in late 2009. I went through the matching process with a few organizations. One had great resources and relationships but I couldn’t accept its reluctance for women in leadership. Another had scarce resources with large denominational expectations so I quickly pulled the plug. At last, I thought we had our match in January of 2011. After a few theological hurdles fell we pressed on fairly confident of the future.
But, there were red flags that I tried to ignore. Most of the people planting were young. In fact, I was older than most of the leaders and trainers. Looking back now, I don’t think I fit the mold, the look, the approach and style. By April it was in serious doubt but we continued moving forward.
John Teter, speaking at a March church planting conference stated simply, “You cannot plant a church until you have been broken.”
I remember asking Robin, “Have we been broken?” Our resume included some very painful times when all we could do was trust God. We endured a painful church split and fled an abusive church. We served a para-church mission that could not pay us and nearly lost our home. We had empty cupboards. But, broken? No, we didn’t think we’d ever been “broken.” Despite its bumps, our life had been good.
We wondered how on earth, if we could not say we had been broken, that others in our group could possibly meet that qualification. I realize now that true brokenness is a sliding scale. The things that we considered breaking events when we were in our twenties seem so minor now.
Broken. His question haunted me, still.
I thought of it again after listening to Francis Chan’s story of leaving his church for the unknown out of an ache to do the things Jesus did. I had that same ache. When he invited planters to come to the front to pray, I initially brushed it off. I’ve never been one much for experiential worship, waving my hands in the air or being very expressive.
Still, I went forward and poured my heart out to God truly wanting to be entirely open to all He wanted to accomplish.
Five days later I lay in Florida Hospital learning that I would die without a liver transplant. Of course, the church plant plans came to a halt immediately. Even our hopes of hanging out with the cool kid, church planters over the summer to earn their trust evaporated on the spot.
Tomorrow I will sit in the same room where I prayed that prayer three years ago. I will be part of Exponential 2014 with more than 3000 people who are planting new works, doing creative things or investing themselves in revitalizing dying churches. I will sit there, healthy, almost 2 years after the transplant that saved my life.
I return knowing exactly what God has called me to. I come as the new pastor of a 125 year old church that was facing closing its doors unless it took some courageous steps toward change. Our little church of 35-40 has become a church of more than 100 in the last 8 months.
There will be clusters of enthusiastic 30 year olds, canvas messenger bags slung over their shoulders containing the newest in Apple products. Denominational church planting teams will brainstorm around tables. General sessions will be energetic, creative and engaging with full volume worship music and accompanying lights and video. It will look vastly different from the one pastors’ conference I attended several years ago. I doubt there will be even one suit coat or tie in the room. I felt so out of place at that conference. Here, I feel at home.
One thing is for certain. If a speaker asks, “have you been broken?” I will answer with total confidence because of the events of the last three years. My God walked with me to the edge of death and hopelessness, made my transplant possible and brought me back to where I am now, restored.
I have been broken.
Yes, I have been broken.