If you’ve been following my blog at all or know any of my story, I was a pastor and church planter from about May of 2015 to June of 2016. Yes, I said was. I am no longer in those roles. For a lot of reasons, some of them I know and some I do not yet know, our plant never really got off the ground. I’ve written about some of it.
But this isn’t over…not by a long shot. The fight goes on. At least in my own heart the fight goes on.
I had a conversation the other day with my dad about all this. I don’t understand why God has not allowed me to continue in a ministry position. I believe with all my heart that God has called and gifted me to preach and teach His Word. This has been affirmed by the elders of our sending church and even by the church we are currently members of.
What I don’t understand is why I can’t do it right now. I don’t understand why it feels like I’m being held back right now. I mean, I know my heart needs work; I know there is sin in my heart. I know that I am imperfect.
But I just don’t understand. I’ve prayed and searched the Scriptures and asked for counsel from godly men I know and, to be brutally honest, no one seems to have any answers. Most pastors I try to talk to about this frankly just don’t know what to say to me. It’s like they’re uncomfortable to talk about failure in ministry. And I’m not talking about moral failure; I’m talking about things just not working out. Nobody knows what to say or what to do.
My dad and I were talking the other day and he reminded me of the time when we moved to Texas back in 1981. By that time, my dad had been in ministry (pastoring) for like 15 plus years. He couldn’t find a job and ended up being a janitor at a local church, cleaning toilets and the like. He didn’t remind me of that story to try and pretend like he was all humble. He was reminding me of God’s faithfulness.
He was reminding me to hold fast to God’s goodness.
I needed that.
So I wanted to just throw a few things out. I’ve got two groups of people I want to address.
First, my fellow planters/pastors that have experienced failure:
1. You matter to the Kingdom.
For me, I struggled with this. Did I even matter anymore? Did I have a place in the work of the Kingdom of God? Was my calling real or did I think I was cooler than I was? I’m here to tell you that you matter to the Kingdom. Hold fast!
2. Your identity is found in Christ, not a title like planter or pastor.
Let’s have some real talk for a second. We get off on titles. We get off on being known. It’s okay for you to say that. It sounds cool to call yourself a “church planter.” It sounds cool, like you’re on the front lines of rescuing the perishing. And you are.
But don’t allow that title or position or that staus to become who you are. If you are in Christ, you are an adopted child of the King and that is enough.
3. It’s easy to question God’s goodness in hard times. Remember the Gospel.
We may not want to admit out loud that we question God in hard times but I’ll say it. I questioned His goodness toward me when the walls came crashing down. It has really been only recently that I am again seeing the beauty of the Gospel and who Christ is. I am coming to understand again that His goodness has been shown to me in Christ, not my circumstances. It’s okay to ask hard questions and confess your neediness but don’t forget what Christ has done on your behalf and who that makes you.
4. Don’t keep your pain inside. Share it, confess it and pray through it with a group of godly men.
This is one that’s been hard for me. I come from a long history of stoicism and “sucking it up.” But this is one you can’t just suck it up from and move on. It’s okay to admit that it hurt. Say it. Pray about it. Speak openly to your brothers and sisters and your spouse about it. Seek godly counsel and His Word.
The second group I wanted to address is churches, specifically sending churches. Please hear my heart and know that I am not criticizing; merely offering some suggestions based on conversations with other planters who have failed and my own experience.
1. When they fail, don’t leave them.
Churches, I know you don’t know what to do when a planter you’ve sent out fails. It’s okay for you not to know what to do but you have to do something. Short of moral failure on the planter’s part, you have to do something. The worst thing that can happen is for the planter to feel abandoned and cut off.
2. Help them get a job.
Heck, give them a job if that’s possible. These brothers are struggling and wrestling with some very real pain and questions. One of those is how they will provide for their families. Their wives want to know this as well. If you don’t have a position for them, reach out to those like-minded churches that may. Again, short of moral failure, these men have been called and gifted. We cannot leave them to just fend for themselves.
3. You bear a responsibility for these men.
Now this may make some of you church leaders uncomfortable and that’s okay. You sent these men and women out to do the work of the Kingdom and you now bear some responsibility to provide and care for them. They’re hurting. You can help heal them and get them back in the fight. Don’t leave a man behind.
4. Pray for them privately and publicly.
Bring them up in prayer before the church. Talk about them with your congregation. Have them talk to your congregation. After all, your congregation is the one who sent them. Whether you bring them back or not, stay in touch.
5. Offer them a listening and understanding ear.
Know that emotions will be raw and there may be hard things said. And that’s okay. We don’t have to clean things up before coming to Christ. Neither should we have to clean things up before coming to each other as mutually broken and sinful people who are in need of a great Savior. Let them speak freely and openly. Even if you haven’t failed and maybe even don’t agree with what they’re saying, listen.
I have to be honest. This one was hard for me to write. I’m still working through all of this. My wife is still working through all of this. Together we are walking through all of this. I’m grateful to God that He has provided us with a body of believers to walk through this with.
Here is my hope. Christ will have His bride. His Church will go forth; the Gospel will be proclaimed. Either by you or by me but He will accomplish His mission that all may hear and that those who have been chosen will come to faith. May we be faithful to the mission and to our Lord and to one another!
Soli Deo Gloria!