"It is easier to deliver a baby than to raise the dead."
And with those words a couple of decades ago, an acquaintance described to me his rationale for determining to be a church planter rather than to be open to serving as the pastor of an existing church. After all, who can argue with the logic? If you go to an existing church, you're going to have to work within existing structures of other people who are trusted by the congregation as much or more than you are, and consequently who have a lot of independent influence among the people. You'll encounter traditions that may be different from your own (and brother, believe me, you've got your own). And the people in the church can be stubborn and cause you lots of problems. They grumble sometimes. They aren't always very appreciative of your efforts. If you start your own church, then nobody has been a member any longer than you have, and nobody ever joined without knowing on the way in about your expectations and visions of ministry. But at an existing church, you're the newcomer for a long time in some people's eyes, and their perspective will influence their decision whether to follow your leadership.
Church planting is hard work, but I don't doubt that in some ways it is a lot easier than pastoring in an existing congregation.
Nevertheless (you knew there was a "nevertheless" coming, didn't you?), I think we pastors can all learn something from the heart of Moses. In Numbers 32:9-10, while Aaron et al were down frolicking with the golden calf, God made this offer to Moses:
I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.
Imagine for a moment that you as a pastor have just sunk into your office chair after a particularly brutal meeting. God shows up and says, "These people at this church are all wrong and you are all right. I'm mad at them with you. Let's leave this church behind, and you let me send them off into oblivion. Let's go deliver a baby instead of trying to raise these dead. I will make of you a great church!"
How do you reply to God's offer?
Here's what Moses did: He loved His people, even in spite of the fact that they were all wrong and he was entirely right and they were constantly, stubbornly giving him terrible trouble. Moses took it upon himself to talk God out of it. Moses harbored no ambitions of personal greatness; he wanted to serve God and love God's people in spite of themselves. He had to be really patient. He had to endure a lot of sidetracks. But in the end, God accomplished all that He had promised.
So, do you love the church and her people that passionately? Do I? And don't we serve a God whose calling card is the fact that He can, has, and does indeed raise the dead?
Somehow in my cutting and pasting, this original ending didn't make it into the post until now. Sorry:
Of course, Paul did have that desire not to build on another man's foundation, and church planting is a critical part of what we need to do to reach the world with the gospel. But the search for what is "easier" doesn't lead people to plant churches in the difficult pioneer and missions area that need our attention so acutely. I wouldn't begrudge anyone for faithfulness to follow the calling of God. We just need to make sure that we serve where we serve because of His calling, and not because of our quest for whatever is easiest or whatever is most likely to contribute to our own personal greatness.