The Blessing of Constraints

In the spring of 2019, I shared with the shepherding elders of our church that we were going to be launching one new congregation a year for the next five years. Our directional elders were already on board, we had resources set aside for the first launch, and we were in the process of building the staff for the first new congregation. In January 2020, the lease we were about to sign for the first of the new congregations fell through. We started looking for a new location and then…Well, you know what happened in March 2020. At this point, it seemed like the plan to launch new congregations would be on hold for…Well, you know there were a lot of opinions about how long.

Early in the pandemic, a friend recommended the book A Beautiful Constraint to me—a book for marketplace leaders that encourages them not to think like a victim when an unforeseen constraint happens, and not even to think like a neutralizer who simply works around the constraint, but to think like a transformer and view the constraint as a gift. The book helped me ask the question: “How can the pandemic actually help us launch new congregations?”

Also, early in the pandemic I offered a systematic theology course zia Zoom to people in our church. One of the sessions was about God’s attributes. We talked about the amazing reality that God exists outside of time, that He sees this moment with equal clarity and vividness as He sees all moments. I was challenged by my own teaching. God fully knew the pandemic was happening when He led us to plan to launch new congregations.

So, in July 2020, we launched six “Mariners in the Neighborhood” locations throughout Orange County. We chose cities where we believed we would one day launch a new congregation. At first each gathering was 50-60 people in a parking lot watching our online worship services together. Then a worship leader with an acoustic guitar was added, then a kids ministry, then Bible study groups, then a youth ministry gathering. A year later, four of the six had become new Mariners Church congregations and we folded the other two into other congregations. Today, all four of those congregations launched during the pandemic are healthy (not perfect) and growing. New leaders have been developed. People have met Jesus. Cities have been served in His name.

Because God exists outside of time, constraints can be beautiful.

I hope I will remember God’s faithfulness to us in that season the next time there is an unforeseen constraint placed on the ministry. Which there certainly will be. There will be new challenges always, but we can believe that God gives leaders direction with full knowledge and understanding of the looming challenges. The constraint can actually be beautiful and helpful and not a reason to abandon what God has called leaders to do.

I first released the above article in Outreach Magazine in the March/April 2024 issue.