When a core group member leaves suddenly, or conflict erupts between two key missional community leaders, or your worship leader quits right before your public launch, how do you deal with the feelings of loss, pain, anger, and grief? When an unbeliever that you have befriended and baptized walks away from the faith, how do you pray? How do you navigate the chasm between how our theology says we ought to respond and how we actually feel?
The ancient practice of lament may be a pathway for church planters to draw near to God even while enduring a dark night of the soul. It may be a means by which God forms spiritual and emotional resilience in a planter. Lament is a common refrain in the Bible—particularly the Psalms, as well as the Book of Lamentations—so why not in the life of a church planter? Lament is the ability to deeply grieve loss and disappointment in a godly way and to present it before God. I certainly know from experience and observation that there are lots of unhealthy and soul-sapping ways to deal with pain in ministry and in life, such as burying it and just working harder, blaming yourself or others or God, escaping into addictive behaviors, and so on.
Fuller Seminary, where I work, teaches lament as an intentional spiritual practice to form students (and staff). Fuller describes lament as a way that we “intentionally bring into God’s presence parts of our lives that are in pain or trauma or are disturbing.” Recently a spiritual formation group I’m part of here at Fuller had each person write their own lament, so I wrote one in my role as a church planter. Part of my lament was to cry out to God:
O Lord, I lie awake at night filled with anxiety and questions
Where are you when I feel alone and afraid?
Doubts engulf my mind, fear pricks my heart
I am fatigued from rejection
Why have you called me to something that is so difficult and lonely?