I’m a failure.
Now before y’all get all touchy feely and tell me not to feel bad about myself, let me explain. In May of 2015…you know what? Let me back up a little further.
I was a cop for 16 years. That’s right, 16. Yes it’s a long time, thus the grey hair on my head and in my beard. You get shot at and pick up dead bodies and see kids murdered and get in fights and have everybody hate you for 16 years and see if you don’t have some grey hair. Anyways. Moving on.
In late 2011, answering a call from God on my life, my wife and I packed up and moved to North Carolina for me to go to seminary. I had no plan. Like no plan. There wasn’t even a plan A, much less B. I didn’t know what I was going to do after seminary. A few months after we got there, one of the elders of our church asked me if I had ever considered being a church planter. I actually didn’t even know what that meant so had to ask for a definition. When they told me what a church planter was, I said no. Actually, what I said was, “Do I have to cut my hair, shave my beard or cover up my tattoos?” They answered no to all but I still told them no.
Fast forward to May of 2015. My wife, daughter and I moved to Indianapolis to plant a church. So much for no. God has a way of not wanting to hear our no sometimes. So we moved to Indy to plant a church and got after it. We identified a small group of people who said they wanted to join our efforts and had another couple move from North Carolina to help out and the husband was to be our worship pastor.
We launched small groups and began to study God’s Word in those groups. We started inviting people we met to come hang out with us. I was meeting random people in coffee shops and at our CrossFit box and talking to them about Jesus and building relationships. We even had a guy come to Christ in one of our small groups and began to talk with our “core team” about launching worship services. Heck, we even had a worship service on Easter Sunday and baptized that brother that professed faith.
We were cruising right along. I was working a bunch of hours, both in evangelism and meeting with other pastors to try and raise support or maybe even add to our core team. I was like yeah bro, this is working! Then it all came crashing down around us. I really honestly don’t know what happened. Things just stopped. We were running out of money, struggling to find a place to meet and all of a sudden our team started backing off. Then one day it was just over.
I was stunned.
Crushed and angry, hurting and confused.
My wife and I both spent some time crying (a lot of time crying) and crying out to God (and some cussing) wondering what was going on. I’m quite sure that one day we will see clearly what all God has been teaching us during this time but there are three specific things I have learned and I want to share them with you.
1. Kingdom work is hard. Like really hard.
Some of you are thinking, ‘What the heck is Kingdom work?’ Let me explain. Kingdom work is working for the King of Kings who is the Son of God, Jesus the Christ. Kingdom work is hard. Here’s why it’s hard:
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” – 1 Peter 5:8
Satan, the devil, hates anything to do with God. He hates all that is of the Kingdom of God. So when you set out to do something to advance the kingdom of light and push back the darkness, the devil will resist you. In fact, I’ll even go so far as to say that if you’re not experiencing some kind of push back from the devil, it could be that you’re not working for the Kingdom.
I mean, I knew this going in. I’ve read the Bible many times (and still do) and I know all about Satan’s desire to rule the world. I should have seen it coming. But that’s where Satan is so very good at his job. Please don’t think that Satan is just some punk that you can wish away. He has very real power to do things here on this earth. Granted, it is power that God allows him to have but that’s a whole different topic. So the battle got nasty, y’all. Like nasty. Conflict at home and in relationships with long time friends and probably some stuff I didn’t even know about. Kingdom work is hard.
2. I’m not that cool.
That sounds kinda stupid to say but stay with me here. I went into this thinking, ‘Okay, I’m a smart dude. I’ve been to seminary and love to teach the Bible. Heck, I’ve even started my own business. How hard can this be?’ Somewhere along the way, I think maybe I began to make this about me. I thought that work ethic matters and that if I just worked a little harder, talked to one more person, preached one more sermon, shared Christ with one more…. See what I mean? Work is good but if we’re not careful, it can become about our effort. I’m gonna come back to this in just a second, but back to the cool part.
Pride is not something that a lot of pastors like to admit to. Having been around a bunch of pastors in my life (and myself), I can assure you that pride is most certainly something that pastors struggle with and should openly admit. I think maybe I thought I was cool, ya know? Pride got involved and I didn’t even see it. I thought I had it figured out. That we could have some good music and people would be drawn to my magnetic personality and the gospel would be proclaimed and poof!, people would show up and we’d be the next big thing. I would never have said that out loud by the way. That would certainly have made me sound arrogant. But whether or not I’d say it out loud or not I really believe it was reality. Quickly back to the work ethic thing. When we work for God, let’s be real sure that we work hard, yes, but that we leave the results to the Spirit of God moving in and through us and His Word preached. We have a tendency to think our work will get the job done and leave the Spirit out of it. Or I’m pretty sure that’s what happened to my heart along the way and I’m pretty sure a lot of pastors and church planters (if they were honest) would say the same thing. Which leads me to…
3. God is a gracious, kind and merciful Father.
I came to this realization when I was praying one day and asking God why this had all fallen apart, why me…generally whining. By His Word, He spoke.
“Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” – Psalm 127:1
In that moment, the Spirit of God spoke to my heart and said very clearly, “Son, you left me out of this equation. This was not your church to build but Mine.”
I was devastated. Somewhere along the way, planting a church had become about me. All my effort and work had, in reality, been about me wanting to be the next great, cool and successful church planter. It boiled down to pride. Even now, as I type this, I can feel the sorrow in my heart over my sin. I get tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat and it makes me want to vomit that I made it this way. But then, God is kind and gracious and merciful and here’s how I know.
What if He had let me go?
What if He had allowed me to plant a successful church and grow it under my own effort and force of personality?
Can you imagine the devastation and pain that would have caused, how people’s very souls would have been in jeopardy and even my own?
I have a child and another on the way. Don’t you think if I saw my daughter doing something that I know would be destructive to her that I would try to stop her, to save her from herself? Of course I would! So would you; it’s called being a good parent.
Oh, don’t miss this. Don’t miss the grace and mercy and kindness of our Father! It is His kindness that stopped me. When I saw this, when He revealed it to me, I was so thankful. So sorrowful at my own sin of pride but so thankful for the kindness and love of a good good Father.
Can I just say to you, Christian, that if you are going through something that you don’t understand right now, I want you to know this: Your Father loves you. He has your best in mind. Trust Him. Even if it’s hard (and it is for me sometimes too…like right now), trust Him. He’s a good Father.
If you’re not a Christian, I want you to know that God is a good Father. He’s not some task master, punishing you and making you beg for mercy or cower in the corner at His anger. He is a good and kind and merciful and gracious Father and He will be a Father and Saviour to you.