In many rural pasture lands throughout South and Central America there is a unique tree called Guazuma Ulmifolia (I’ll call it GU for short). GU has many usages, but one of the primary functions is to use them as fence posts. GU is no ordinary fencepost though. Its distinct feature is that it can regrow roots and branches after it has been cut down, essentially making it a living fencepost.
Those of us who live as missionaries and plant new churches often come to a point in ministry where we feel cut down and abandoned. I don’t know a veteran church planter who hasn’t felt those feelings and even wondered if they weren’t cut out for the work God had called them to.
I can’t help but wonder if being cut down in ministry is simply God’s way of humbling us and preparing us for a new type of mission with a more powerful focus. Maybe God allows us to be cut down because he knows we can be reempowered and transplanted to live again with a new purpose.
Church planters who become living fenceposts have a unique advantage on the mission field. Here are four ways God tends to use those who choose to be replanted in the soil of God:
People are attracted to a humble leader.
When people watch a leader go through a cut down and healing process, they become more aware of Christ and his humility. As a leader comes to grips with their weaknesses and failures, they are able to push the limelight off of themselves and onto Christ. The apostle Paul described this dynamic to the church in Corinth this way, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:9-11) The humble leader becomes more attractive to others and people perceive the leader to be a genuine servant of Christ. I have personally experienced this regrowth and I have also coached countless church planters who have gone through the refining process. I am amazed by how the new and improved leader emerges with a gentler spirit and a more understanding attitude. Without fail, after a period of time, the leader’s ministry flourishes even more.
People find the leader more credible.
When I was first exposed to the living fenceposts in South America, I was shocked and in awe of nature’s miracle. I couldn’t stop looking at the fenceposts and wondering how that happened! In the same way, people find the new leader to be more credible and their words of wisdom carry an increased level of respect. In fifth chapter of Luke we read about a story where Peter is radically humbled and Jesus calls him to a new level of followership. In Luke 5:8, Peter described himself as a woefully sinful man and tells Jesus to go away from him, for he was not worthy to be in his presence. Interestingly enough, Jesus ends up calling him higher and uses him as a key influencer in the Early Church. Just like Peter, living fencepost leaders can become more credible as we allow Jesus to transform us from the inside out.
People witness a stronger teaching ministry.
More often than not, the transformed leader develops a more authentic communication style, which connects to the hearts of the hearers. This is likely because the teaching of the leader comes from a place that knows true brokenness. Even more, the leader becomes more comfortable in their own skin and is less worried about pleasing people with their words. Many leaders discover a new sense of boldness rising out of their teachings. Do you recall who was the first leader to proclaim the Good News after Pentecost? It was the GU Peter!
People recognize that the leader is not doing ministry to feed their ego.
The post-Christian 21st century culture comes with an increased level of skepticism toward church leaders. Church planters are typically not received with open arms in a community and the perception is that church leaders are in it for themselves and are simply attempting to build their vision and empire. When people encounter a living fencepost leader, who is genuinely more concerned with people rather than their purpose, the skepticism diminishes. People can sense that the leader is more about Christ’s kingdom and not their own, which is quite respectable.
If you are living as a missionary and making disciples of Jesus, you will inevitably go through a process where The Lord cuts you down and refines your inner being. This work is painful and heart wrenching, to be sure, but is important to never lose sight of the new roots and branches that can be grown.
Never lose sight of the world’s true Hope. Never lose sight of Christ Jesus our Lord.
May you continue onward and upward as a living fencepost.