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Building God’s Kingdom or Clinging to Mine
By Ty Watts, Epiphany Church in Brooklyn, New York

I find it hard to admit when I am wrong. Maybe because I’m usually always right – or at least I try and convince myself that I am.  However, I can look back at one particular moment in my marriage when my ideals got dramatically reversed.

One evening my husband walked into the house as I was preparing dinner and announced with excitement, “Well, I think we should prayerfully consider relocating to the city to begin the church planting process.” I immediately tensed up and blurted out a quick sarcastic remark and resumed cooking dinner.  I clearly wanted to avoid the conversation. The thought of my family planting a church gripped me with fear. I knew it would instantly alter my life, expose my idols and invade the kingdom I had erected in my heart. 

What I didn’t know, or even allow myself to dream, was how God would use planting a church to foster community and how the gospel would impact lives! I finished cooking dinner, we sat down as a family to eat, and as I expected, church planting was not mentioned again – at least not for the remainder of that night.

Instinctively, I knew church planting would threaten the existence of my kingdom. The kingdom I toiled years building and dreaming about. All that I had ever dreamt was finally coming into fruition! I didn’t want anything to alter my plans, not even for God’s plans! I’d heard the stories of how ministry stress weighs on families and marriages, and how marriages drift apart because of church responsibilities. All I could think about was wanting to guard and protect our family and marriage. Brandon and I were approaching twelve years of marriage at this point. We had purchased our first home and were eagerly moving up the corporate ladder. I was happy, comfortable and very content with all we’d accomplished.  And honestly, ministry wasn’t a desire of mine, nor was it the dream I had for my life or what I wanted for myself or my children.

“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” Prov. 19:21

My husband and I often quoted this verse, but during this time I struggled to find peace with words I knew to be true. It was hard for me to lay down my will and fully accept God’s.  My sweet and loving husband observed and gracefully walked with me as I wrestled. He shrewdly planned a trip – a “romantic Valentine’s Day weekend” – in a trendy loft located in the heart of the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, New York.

The weekend was filled with many firsts: our first time to visit a winery in hipster-saturated Williamsburg, Brandon’s first time preaching in Brooklyn, and our first time prayerfully walking the streets of Bed-Stuy. This man knew in his heart that praying and walking the streets of Bed-Stuy would be the ideal way to refine mine. I was finally able to see God’s plans were larger than the finite world I clung to. For the first time, I began to understand the call to plant a church in Bed-Stuy. For the first time, I was deeply convicted by my self-absorbed dreams. I was able to freely dream of the endless possibilities for God to use this community to bring Him glory.

Church planting has been a surprising joy for me – it has affirmed in many ways that this is indeed the plan God has for our life. I get to witness how the Gospel not only saves but also transforms lives. The stories of marriages being healed, community forming, and hope being restored are testimonies to God’s faithfulness. I highly underestimated God’s love for His people.  He is relentless in the pursuit of His children and will use anyone – including a stubborn woman who clung to her own kingdom – to aid in accomplishing His mission.

I am undeserving of the gift that Epiphany Church has been to me. It has been the place where I’ve found my voice as a Pastor’s wife, and where I experience grace as I continue to grow and stumble. God lovingly placed me in a community where I can laugh hysterically and cry freely, knowing that I am loved unconditionally. I could never imagine that this journey would allow me to experience God’s grace in such a sweet way.

This journey has been a constant reminder of how God continues to lavish his love upon me. I experienced his tender embrace during a season when my instincts were completely wrong, and I can now admit without guilt or shame how determined I was to alter the path He had for me. Seeing how wrong I actually was is part of what has helped me realize how gracious and patient God is – planting this church is a gift for which I am undeserving and by which I am humbled on a daily basis. I will forever be grateful for this process. 

This article is part of Orchard Group’s series, In Their Own Words, where we ask church planters about their experience planting a church, reflecting on what they would do differently and the lessons they’ve learned. 

“Get all the advice and instruction you can, so you will be wise the rest of your life.” Prov 19:20