Anybody who knows me well will tell you I’m a teacher and coach at heart.
Some of my earliest and most formative memories as a child come from the wrestling room observing my father coach, and from late nights running around the school halls as he graded in his classroom. Years later, unable to escape his warnings on the profession of teaching, I graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with an English teaching degree. Even my resignation after two years of teaching and coaching in the public school was to pursue a lifetime of teaching and coaching in the local church. Cut me, and I bleed teaching.
Frontier Church’s pulpit is fast approaching. With our church plant’s public launch on the horizon, you can imagine the intense pressure and joy of selecting the first few sermon series for our church plant. Starting at our public launch, we will charge through an invigorating 6-week sermon series on our church’s values and goals. It’ll be a six-week adrenaline shot. But after the sprint, we will lower ourselves to the ground, and begin to army-crawl chapter by chapter, verse by verse, sentence by sentence through books of the Bible. So the question is: army-crawl through which book? Opening the Bible endeavoring to select the first book to preach from has been dizzyingly overwhelming for me: all of the books of the Bible are beautiful (good for us), they’re all inerrant (without error), they’re all Christocentric (about Jesus). When you open a book like the Bible, the immediate response of a teacher isn’t to preach any one of the books of the Bible. It’s a greedy desire to preach all of them!
But the pulpit is fast approaching. And the more I become immersed in the world of church planting whether by reading, talking, or simply experiencing it, the more I notice the same sentiments arising: church planting is as difficult as it is rewarding, as arduous as it is satisfying. I hear common echos, like: you’ll be surprised to note the difference between the people you plant with and the people you end up with. But I don’t want this sentiment to be Frontier Church’s experience; the people we’re planting with are the people I want to grow old with. I want their children and our (eventual) children to grow up at the same dinner table laughing together, joking together, praying together. So the question that began to emerge in my prayer life, like a scratched cd on repeat, was: how do I prepare our people to experience endurance in the imminent hardship that God graciously grants church plants?
I love Paul’s vision of the marriage between the gospel and hardship in the book of Philippians. It reminds me of a fullback in a football game. For those who are football illiterate, the fullback is generally the lead blocker for the running back. The fullback is like a punching bag for the offense; he’s usually the first to hit or be hit. The fullback has to be a beast, because he’s one of the hardest hit and hardest hitting players on the field. I remember hearing from our high-school football team’s fullback that he’d sometimes pee blood after football games. There is only one type of man who can remain in the fullback position his entire football career: it’s the man who knows with confidence that these grueling hits are never without purpose. The best fullbacks glory not in hopes of being the star of the game, but in absorbing vicious blows so that the running back can march down the football field and score a touchdown for the team.
Likewise, Paul and the church’s struggles are never without purpose in the book of Philippians. For instance, in penning the book of Philippians Paul is in jail, he notes this: “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12). Paul’s hope in the midst of struggle was profound. He knew with confidence that the purpose of this punishing hit was to watch the gospel march down the football field in the Roman prison: “so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ” (Philippians 1:13). Paul understood his identity as a Christian to be a fullback for the gospel. Every hit. Every tackle. Every yard. Every touchdown. For the gospel.
Likewise, in 1:29, Paul illuminates the purpose of the Philippians’ struggles as a church: “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” It can hardly be said that suffering is happening to the church at Philippi; Paul writes that it’s granted to the church at Philippi. Did you catch that? The hardships that the Philippians are experiencing have a purpose: it is for Jesus’ sake. To drag the analogy back to the football field, every single painful moment in the life of the Philippian church, whether persecution, slander, or otherwise, is granted so that Jesus’ name might march down the football field gloriously in the city of Philippi. That’s a fullback church built for endurance, longevity, and purpose.
Frontier Church, like our brothers in Philippi a long time ago, we will experience hardship in the beginning stages of our church plant. Maybe we won’t experience jailing for the gospel like Paul (1:12-14), but we will be blindsided by grumbling (2:14), disputers (3:2), and disagreement (4:2-3) to name a few. Yet, in the midst of it all, we’ll be treading slowly through a twenty-three week series on the book of Philippians. If we want to be a fullback church, then let’s learn from a fullback church. When things seem grim, God will remind us of the joy in perseverance (1:6-11). When the labor of planting feels difficult, God will remind us of the joy in labor (1:19-26). When the friendships feel difficult, God will remind us of the joy in unity (2:1-11). When we experience victory and temptation towards self-righteousness, God will remind us of the disgust of putting our confidence in the flesh (3:2-9).
For the glory of Jesus.
And the joy of Des Moines.
The Pulpit is fast approaching.