Peace and Quiet: A Different Pace for Church Planting
As a church planter in one of the most vibrant and fastest growing cities in the country, one of the most interesting verses to me is Paul’s command in 1 Thessalonians 4:11, to “aspire to live quietly.” This seems strange. Live quietly? It sounds boring and unproductive. Similarly though, in 1 Timothy 2:2, Paul calls people to pray to the end of living “a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” Peace and quiet are not the typical adjectives people use to describe a life of ministry, especially for church planters. We don't want slow, peaceful, and quiet; we want fast, famous, loud, and large. That’s how most people talk about it anyway.
CHURCH PLANTING PRESSURES
There is a great sense of pressure for church planters to grow quickly (be a "success story"), out-perform others (be the greatest!), and hit certain numbers (often the only thing we measure). Many pastors and their people push so hard to make something happen that the result is many (if not all) of those people get burnt out (including the pastor) and the church ends up closing its doors. I have heard this story too many times in just the last five years I’ve been in Austin. It’s usually not opposition from a hostile, unbelieving world that shuts down the church–it’s an obsession with fast growth and large numbers, and a refusal to slow down and rest that burns people out. It’s a ministry version of workaholism that chokes out the spiritual life of people. It’s when people are so desperate to make something happen that they can’t slow down, be content, and quietly embody the love of Christ among their neighbors over the long haul.
WHY DO WE DO THIS?
We think, “If I slow down, we will fall behind, and we will never grow.” We think, “If I live a quiet life, how will anyone hear about Jesus?” I totally understand these thoughts, and I think them all the time. But shockingly enough, a peaceful and quiet life of godliness and dignity is quite attractive to the world. It’s an amazing apologetic to our neighbors. Our souls were made for peace. Peace (in Hebrew, “Shalom”) is what we had with God in the garden before Adam sinned and the world was cursed with thorns and thistles. The Edenic life was a quiet life of peace with God, working hard in the garden and enjoying its fruit. Our souls crave this. Our world doesn’t have this. Jesus offers this. So the church is meant to embody this peace and quietness in the midst of our loud and chaotic world, giving a taste of the rest and Shalom of God that Christ offers our souls. This isn't selfish quietness, isolating from others and living for ourselves. We live a quiet life, not just for ourselves, but for the good of our neighbors, to introduce them to the peace of Christ.
"We live a quiet life, not just for ourselves, but for the good of our neighbors, to introduce them to the peace of Christ."
SHOW YOUR NEIGHBORS GOSPEL REST
When we are always rushing, always busy, never stopping, obsessing over results and numbers, then all we are showing our neighbors is more of what they already see in the world: slavish workaholism. That does not portray the gospel! And our neighbors need the gospel. The gospel teaches us to rest because Jesus said, "It is finished" (John 19:30). He worked salvation for us; we don't earn it, we receive it. Tremendous peace comes from this. Peace with God. Peace to the storm in our hearts to prove ourselves and make a name for ourselves. People who don’t know Jesus are missing this true peace that their souls long for; they search for it in relationships, wealth, popularity, business success, and the like. But they will never find it in those places because, as Augustine said, "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you."
Even those who have a healthy marriage, good kids, a great job, a nice house, and so on cannot help but feel a sense of lack in their life–they lack God, the one whom their soul was made for. "As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God" (Psalm 42:1). There is a soul-peace that is missing. A quietness and rest of heart that only Christ offers. The gospel message teaches us that we can rest because Christ labored on our behalf; he gives us our identity, we don't have to work for it. There's peace in that. When we embody this Christ-peace in a quiet, content life among our non-Christian neighbors we invite them to taste and see the peace of Christ for themselves.
"When we embody this Christ-peace in a quiet, content life among our non-Christian neighbors we invite them to taste and see the peace of Christ for themselves."
I think if church-planting were marked more by peace-and-quiet than fast-and-large, there would be less burn out and more fruit over the long haul. This doesn't mean we don't serve and give and share the gospel and meet our neighbors and pour out our lives for others; we must do these things! It means that we do these things in healthy rhythms of work and rest, ministry and retreat, labor and recreation. It means not fretting over how quickly things are moving or how we measure up to others. It means giving more time to prayer, meditation, and solitude, to care for our own souls as we seek to minister to others. We don't neglect our spiritual lives in the pursuit of caring for the spiritual lives of others. We pursue peace and quietness in our souls and show hospitality to our neighbors by inviting them into this rest we have in Christ.
The context of the verses we began with (1 Thess. 4:11 and 1 Tim. 2:2) is the contentment of Christians bearing witness to the goodness of God in the midst of fretful, anxious, fearful, and stressed out cultures. Our slowing down and resting in the sovereignty and goodness of God will do more to draw our neighbors to Christ than anxious lives of hurry and worry. Let's plant "peace-and-quiet" churches that spread the Shalom of God to hearts in need of true rest.