Looking at successful entrepreneurs throughout history can reveal the characteristics needed to start and build something from scratch. I suspect the list of traits includes grit, resourcefulness, initiative, risk tolerance, and creativity among others.
Perhaps at the top of the list would be endurance, the ability to withstand hardship or adversity over a prolonged period. I think of endurance runners who continue to put one foot in front of the other during the elements and pain of a long-distance race.
The Apostle Paul’s second letter to Timothy teaches us a lot about endurance in ministry. Paul is a key example of what it means to be a church planter and a missionary. It’s no surprise that Paul exhorts his disciple to withstand the hardship and adversity that comes with pastoral ministry, and in particular, church planting
We Endure Because We’re Called
Paul begins with the reality that Timothy and his fellow ministers will face persecution, hardship, and suffering for proclaiming Jesus (2 Tim. 1:8, 12; 2:3). But he backs up the reality of suffering with a greater reality of endurance produced through the gospel (2 Tim. 1:8; 2:11–13; 4:8). Paul then gives real-life examples of what endurance looks like for a minister of Jesus.
He begins with a soldier who is enlisted by his superior for a specific calling (2 Tim. 2:4). He’s to be single-mindedly devoted to his mission and no longer see himself as a civilian. As planters who need endurance, we must also be single-mindedly devoted to our enlisting captain and receive his calling. We no longer see ourselves as worldly people and we don’t get entangled in matters beneath the worthiness of the gospel.
Paul’s second example is an athlete (2 Tim. 2:5) who is disciplined and possesses stamina. Real athletes don’t cut corners or look for an easy way out. They train and race with integrity over the long haul with unparalleled resilience. Likewise, there are no easy ways out or silver bullets in church planting. We endure by staying disciplined over the long haul. We aren’t enticed by cutting corners.
The third example is a farmer (2 Tim. 2:6). The farmer keeps his hand to the plow even when the wind, rain, and heat work against him. The odds are stacked against us in planting churches. Satan hates us, sin distracts us, and cultural idols are more compelling than Jesus. There’s never enough money, time, or energy. Yet, like the farmer, we endure with a hand-to-the-plow mentality knowing that if God is for us, then who can be against us?
We Endure Because It’s Worth It
Finally, Paul says, “Think it over, the Lord will give you understanding” (2 Tim. 2:7). In other words, “Slow down and take a second glance at my words.” There are some beautiful promises if we look again.
When the soldier is single-minded, he receives the praise of his captain. When the athlete is disciplined for the long haul, he’s awarded the crown at the finish line. When the farmer is diligent, he tastes the first crop from his land.
When we are single-minded as church planters, we get the praise of our Lord who enlisted us. When we are disciplined for the long haul, we are crowned with the honor of Jesus at the end of the race. When we stay diligent, we taste the promises of Jesus. Endurance is always worth it.
We Endure Through Christ Alone
So, how do we endure? Paul says, “Be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:1). This is a present passive imperative. The command (imperative) is to be strengthened, which is in the present tense. But notice the command is also passive. Paul doesn’t say, “Go strengthen yourself.” He says, “Be strengthened.” You don’t achieve strength; you receive it by the grace that is in Christ Jesus. When we lose sight of the calling, our Savior doesn’t. He has an everlasting strength we can draw from to endure.
The gospel teaches us that Jesus is the soldier who fulfilled his calling as he marched to the cross on our behalf. Jesus is the athlete who refused to cut corners, even when he could have. He is the farmer who diligently works on our behalf. This is the One who is readily available to us to endure in our calling to plant and multiply healthy churches around the world.
One of my favorite songs is All Because of Christ by The Austin Stone Church Worship Team, which begins with a question:
If I stand and see it through,
If I stay the course and make it home,
If my heart is overwhelmed with peace in the storm,
It’s all, it’s all because of Christ.
Then, there’s a transition to a promise:
So I will stand and see it through,
I will stay the course and make it home,
Oh my heart is overwhelmed with peace in the storm,
It’s all, it’s all because of Christ.
The promise is that we’ll endure because of Christ alone. To those in the work of church planting: keep going. As you face hardship and adversity, the calling is to endure. This is simple but not easy. So when you feel like giving up, fix your eyes upon Jesus. He will complete what he has begun and cause you to endure.