I was at a church planting assessment center (CPAC) in Tuscon, Arizona, in January with several church planting candidates. On the last day of the CPAC, I was sharing a devotional titled “The Five Things I’ve Learned About Church Planting” from our past four years of planting a church on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, New York City. Candidates grabbed their notebooks, expecting to hear five strategic or tactical steps to planting a successful church around fundraising, gathering a team and vision and values planning.
They may have been rather disappointed. My top five list had nothing to do with the task of planting a church and everything to do with me as a leader and follower of Jesus and how the Holy Spirit might want to transform us through the church planting process.
Number two on my list was “Consider Becoming A Monk.” No one seemed amused at this point. A monk? That seems the opposite of what we are called to do as multipliers in the kingdom! My intention was not to encourage these church planters to join a monastic order but instead to realize, and live within, their own limitations as humans.
I have been thinking a lot lately about my limitations. I’ll explain.
From the moment we are born, we are becoming something in life. If we had the privilege of growing up with nurturing parents or other mentors who believe in us, our life ahead is full of possibility and potential. Even if we grew up in less than ideal circumstances, there can always be hope of a better future. Even as we move well into our 20s, life is still full of potential with our best days ahead for most of us. There is a sense that we can truly become whatever we determine God has called us to be.
In our late 30s or early 40s, though, we begin to come face to face with our humanity. We realize that being human involves limits. Some call this the “mid-life crisis” or the “dark night of the soul” or maybe “hitting the wall.” If we are honest, we have always known we have limits, but instead of embracing our limits, we have either tried to eliminate them, push through them or, at the very least, mitigate their effects.
There comes a point in life, though, when our limitations will either become our enemies or our allies. If they remain our enemies, we will continue to become through our persistent striving, what Richard Rohr calls an “Old Fool.” If we embrace our limitations, though, we have an opportunity through the wisdom journey to become what Rohr calls a “Holy Fool” (Rohr & Martos, 1991, The Wild Man’s Journey).
Jon Tyson, a fellow pastor and friend in New York City, once said in regard to his weekly structure that his outward leadership is highly charismatic, while his prayer life and spiritual practices are nearly monastic. He explained that his leadership is charismatic in that he is outwardly Spirit-led, leading in his church with passion and zeal, while his prayer life is monastic in that he rigidly structures his life and spiritual practices around his limitations in order to allow God to transform him.
Monks live this highly structured life around practices of the Christian life. Their days are built around prayer, worship gatherings, Scripture study, work and rest. There is very little, if any, variation from day to day and week to week. This balanced way of life is a way of facing our limitations as good news in a world that despises limitations.
As Christians, too, we often bemoan the limitations of humanity as part of the curse of sin under which we all live. But we forget that Jesus had limitations in his humanity too. In Scripture we see him sleeping through a storm in a boat. We see him pulling away from the crowds to rest under pure exhaustion. We see him facing his own mortality as he carries his cross to Golgotha.
Part of the Son of God becoming human was to both embrace humanity and to ultimately redeem the gift of the limitations of being human. Instead of despising humanity, Jesus actually elevated what it means to be human by becoming human himself. This is good news. Through his life and work, he showed us that we can fully serve God by responding to his call on our lives while embracing limitations as a true gift from God.
If we think about it, Adam’s sin, in many ways, was rebellion against limits. Sin is really our attempt at being God. Jesus, as the second Adam, redeems our limits and restores them as a true gift from God, allowing us to fully enjoy him and embrace “life to the full” (John 10:10) as he intended.
When we fail to embrace our limits, we are living as less than human. Whether you are a church planter or pastor, working as an attorney, stay-at-home parent, doctor or carpenter, God has created you with limits. Embrace your limits as a gift from God and begin the journey to really embracing “life to the full” as God intended.
What are your limitations? How might embracing these limitations be good news for you? What steps can you take today to begin to live a “life to the full?”
Rev. Branden Petersen serves as a lead pastor at Resurrection Life NYC.