Here at the Summit, we have an audacious goal of planting 1,000 churches by 2050. (By God’s grace, we have already planted 298!) One of the most bittersweet realities of planting churches is sending out your best leaders. One of the greatest benefits is getting to learn from them along the way. So we decided to ask some of our Summit Network pastors to give back a little share some of what God has taught them.
Every Monday throughout the summer, check in here for a dash of wit and wisdom from some of our Summit Network church planters. To find out more about how the Summit Network equips leaders to plant, grow and multiply gospel-centered churches, visit thesummitnetwork.com. Next up: Bryan Barley!
–Chris Pappalardo, Editor
“What’s a ‘Hulk Hogan?’” my five-year-old daughter asked.
“Who’s a Hulk Hogan. Not ‘what.’ Here, I’ll just show you,” I responded.
We were a half-hour into our weekly Saturday morning routine of making pancakes, and the conversation turned to what my Saturday mornings looked like when I was a kid. I grew up waking my parents way too early, laying at the edge of their bed, and watching professional wrestling, delighting at any opportunity to see Hulk Hogan threaten the lives of his competitors.
This made no sense to my daughter, so from the kitchen I pulled out my iPhone, turned on the Apple TV from across the room, cast a YouTube video of Wrestlemania III, and within a few seconds of the question being raised, she watched in wonder as the Hulkster became the heavyweight champion of the world.
I felt a sense of awe, that through the devices found in many American homes, I had experienced something akin to Genesis 1-esque power.
I spoke, and it was.
A No-limits Culture
Many of our cultural advances and privileges give us regular tastes of supernatural power. Coupled with this is a regular American narrative, “Reality can be whatever I want it to be.” (Thanos said this in Avengers: Infinity War, by the way. Not the best guy to be adopting life vision statements from.) We think that if we dream big, work hard, and push through the pain, we can will into existence what we’ve always wanted.
We have no limits.
But if the Scriptures are the lens through which we understand reality, we should be struck by how consistently God shapes his people through proclaiming to them their limitations. From the Garden to the Wilderness to the Great Commission, God forms his people by declaring their finitude. We envision ourselves as limitless beings when in actuality, we spend a third of our days unconscious in sleep, and if we miss a meal by an hour, we turn “hangry” (hungry/angry) and our loved ones brace for the consequences.
From the Garden to the Wilderness to the Great Commission, God forms his people by declaring their finitude.
The Limitless God Who Gives Limits
The church is always fighting to remain a distinct people in the culture in which she exists, but the rejection of limitations is one aspect of secularism we surprisingly adopt. We won’t take regular days off or use vacation time, and we wear our exhaustion as a badge of honor. We expect our spouse to continuously perform better in meeting our needs and dismiss the grueling demands of having young children in our home. We treat employees as something subhuman—units of productivity to generate as much output as possible while strategizing how to give as little benefits and pay in return.
Those of us in ministry, sadly, succumb to this just as much as anyone else. Perhaps more so. What makes it worse for us is the spiritual justification we give to this madness: We’re “pouring our lives out” or “creating a culture of sacrifice.”
There’s something hard-wired in our hearts to reject the fundamental limitations that God has placed around us. Jen Wilkin captures the reality well: “Human beings created to bear the image of God instead aspire to become like God. Designed to reflect his glory, we choose instead to rival it. We do so by reaching for those attributes that are true only of God, those suited only to a limitless being.”
Have you ever considered the reason we reject our limitations is not because we are faithful but rather faithless? More often than we realize, it can be a great act of faith to say “no” to something we don’t have the capacity to do, or accept the “no” of another when it thwarts our preferred plans.
A Surprising Lesson
In almost a decade of planting our church in the heart of the city, the most surprising lesson I’ve learned has actually been a joyful acceptance of the limitations God has placed around me and those I’m responsible for. In a Babel culture where we believe our efforts and innovations can build high towers of divine power, and our people live daily in environments where their dignity is ignored and dismissed, one of the greatest apologetics for how the kingdom of God brings about true flourishing is the way we practice and proclaim the disciplines of rest, respect, and honor. As we grow in our understanding of God, we grow in our daily practice and proclamation that we are not God.
Bryan Barley is one of the pastors of The Summit Church in Denver, CO, a church he helped start out of his living room in January 2011. He and his wife have two daughters and are pregnant with their first son. They live in the Five Points neighborhood of the city.