Spider-Monkeys in the City

Brit and I and the four kids got back last week from a four night visit to Halifax. We put in 3310 km and 36 hours of total van-time (along with a great many McDonald’s cheeseburgers and Tim’s breakfast sandwiches). Our kids are great road-trippers and we had a blast together.

Halifax has been on our radar for church planting. Landing there in the next year seems more and more like a real possibility. This is both exciting and frightening.

We stayed at an Airbnb equipped with Netflix, so we watched a couple of episodes of Planet Earth II together.

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One episode featured a family of spider-monkeys and focused on the daily challenges of being a spider-money. Jungle life is no joke. Unbeknownst to these little creatures, David Attenborough had the cold, hard facts on them, and sombrely narrated: “Only 1/3 of these monkeys will survive to adulthood.”

To survive, Attenborough said, the moneys have to be tough monkeys. Tough and smart. Monkeys that develop their jumping and swinging skills faster than other monkeys are the ones that survive. The jungle is competitive, and only the strongest, smartest, luckiest spider-monkeys make it.

When I think of church planting, I feel the same pressure.

I have to be tough, I think, because only tough church planters make it. And I need to be smart. I need to not just be a good church planter, but an innovative and unique one–the city is a competitive place, after all.

I hear David Attenborough’s voice narrating as we walk around Halifax: “Only 1/3 of these church planters will survive past three years.”

Thankfully, there’s a better word than Attenborough’s.

Speaking to the apostle Paul, whose life was one of weakness and distress and pain, our Lord said: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Once, Paul had begged God to remove a “thorn in the flesh,” a constant reminder of Paul’s weakness. And this is how God responded: not by removing the thorn and replacing it with strength and smarts, but rather with a renewed promise of sufficient grace. God would not turn Paul into a great and powerful man, but would use Paul’s weakness as a conduit for his own power.

When God paints, he likes to use unimpressive brushes.

This answer would have hardly been surprising for Paul. He witnessed this upside-down reality in his ministry, pointing it out when encouraging other Christians:

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).

I doubt spider-monkeys experience the dread and fear I sometimes do. For their sake, I hope they don’t suddenly freeze, catch their breath, and, high up in a tree, begin wondering, “Do I have what it takes? Am I strong enough? Will I make it, will I be okay? Am I just another weak monkey?”

Paul no longer needed to be strong. He didn’t need to be worried about competition or lack of resources or the rate of persecution among apostles of his time. Because of Jesus’ grace he could say, “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Church planting is going to be hard. It has many challenges. There have been many before me who have tried and failed (in a manner of speaking). I’m planning on working hard. I hope to be wise and bold wherever I’m called.

But my comfort and hope isn’t strength and smarts; it’s in the God who gives grace to the weak people he chooses to work through.

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