(I wrote this a few years ago when I was going through a really rough time at church. I am happy to report that God is still good and Christ is still enough. Praise God who brings beauty out of ashes.)
I love the stories of failures. I must be a sick human being, but I like it when others screw up. I watch those “epic fails” on the interwebs and I eat them up. There’s something very human about messing up. This is why if I had to pick a favorite apostle I would definitely be Team Peter. Paul is certainly a stud, but Peter is relatable. I can relate to being cowardly and not standing up for Jesus. I can relate to being hypocritical and choosing the crowd over my convictions. I can relate to Peter.
My favorite conference messages are the ones where the speaker gets real transparent and talks about the trials their church has faced. The problem is after that they screw the whole thing up with a happy ending. A good comeback story draws a crowd, a story where the character is still flat on his back being ran over, not so much. They don’t usually invite those guys to speak at conferences. So I’m not proud of this but when I leave a conference I tend to either leave jealous or convinced that God is going to something “special” in my church that He hasn’t promised in scripture. I’m a mess. I want people to tell me that things are hard and will continue to be hard.
I want to share my story of failure with you written from a guy from the bottom of a pit. I have not risen out of the ashes like a phoenix quite yet. I might not ever and I need to be okay with that. Over the last 4 months over 40 people have walked away from my church. We were averaging about 150 up to that point. I wish I could tell you they left because I was preaching the truth and they didn’t like it. I wish I could tell you they left because they’re immature Christians, they’re not. I wish I could give you the exact reason they left, but I don’t know. I know I’m not innocent and I know that I failed them in a lot of ways. I know it’s awful hard to not preach discouraged now. I know that I’m ashamed and embarrassed. I know that I’ve avoided pastor lunches because I don’t want to face some of those guys. I know I don’t want to talk to the pastor down the road that’s inherited some of my people, even though he’s an awesome pastor. Even though I told some of them to check his church out. I know that I’m not sure that my friendships2 with these people will ever be restored. They were definitely my friends and they’re not jerks now, but it’s just awkward. I know this sucks.
I’ve fought hard in my relationship with God these last several months. There have been many great days where I’ve felt His comfort and strength. There have been other days where I’ve fought tears all day and got nothing done. I want to share two things with you that I’ve learned or at least I think I’ve learned in the process.
1. My faith is not in a happy ending
I don’t think the answer to this mess is to believe in a certain outcome more. That isn’t biblical faith. Yes, I know brother pastor that God is in the resurrection business. I know that He can do the impossible. I know you mean well when you try to encourage me. I really am grateful. I also know that God doesn’t promise ministry success or happy endings here on earth.
In Hebrews 11:30- 40& the author recounts men and women of great faith. Up to the second line of verse 35 the author describes a victorious faith. Men and women that subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire and so on and so forth. I can get behind that victorious faith. Then suddenly in the second sentence of vs 35 things change. Others were tortured. Whaaat? In 36, Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. Great faith isn’t dependent on a certain outcome or a happy ending, but a living God. Faith is in a person, not an outcome. That person Jesus Christ is the beginning and ending of your faith.
After this dramatic turn in scripture the author has the nerve to say in vs 38 that the world was not worthy of them. You see there’s something about faith that the 3 in the fire understood that we need to understand. Even if God does not deliver us He is still God. He is still good. He is still faithful and loving. He is still worthy of worship.
2. Christ is enough
God is really trying to teach me through all of this that He is enough. His grace is sufficient for me. His power is made perfect in my weakness. I can go hungry or be full because I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Sorry athletes and Christian coffee cup makers, but that verse wants us to know that the circumstance doesn’t matter because Christ is enough. You see I’m fighting the same battle that I want every member of my church to win. I want my heart to know that Christ is all I need. Everything else can be taken away, but He is enough.
Brothers and sisters this is the best thing you can do for your church. Let the joy of the Lord be your strength.. Ministry success is nothing more than an idol in many pastors’ hearts. Is Christ enough if your church dwindles, if people walk away? I’ve also got this sneaky suspicion that when you finally find “success” it’s not that great either. It doesn’t quite satisfy, because it’s not Christ. However, I’d be okay probably if God wanted to tempt me from that direction a little more often.
God is graciously tearing the idols from my heart and it hurts. He’s doing it for my good and I know that, but I want it to stop. Ministry success was an idol. The approval of men was an idol. My cute, mid-sized happy church was an idol. It’s all gone but Christ is enough. Is He enough for you? Is He your joy?
Little children keep yourselves from idols. Amen - 1 John 5:21