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Tears of a Church Planter

I cried–and was found

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Every pastor has experienced this—that moment when you’d rather quit instead of move forward; the doubt that causes you to question if ministry really is your “true” calling; when you are besieged by more negative than positive, and yet you must smile to those who depend on you. It can be exhausting and demoralizing.

Several years ago, my wife and I started our church right out of college. I cried . . . often. My wife would say she had never seen me cry so much before. I cried because it seemed that I was not succeeding, that I did not know what I was doing. It seemed that for every two steps forward, came one or more steps backward. So I cried. I just lost it.

One morale-injuring incident centered on my perception of what I “should have” accomplished. Every church planter or pastor (or any leader for that matter) has an idea what he wants to achieve. For most church planters, the only vision they have is to start a huge church in a matter of months. It is all about the numbers, and so when I started to count the numbers, when I started to compare our journey with someone else’s journey, it hurt. Of course, I did not measure up! It hurts, because there is always someone doing it better than you are, and bigger and with more results.

In need of some encouraging words, one afternoon I phoned my former college roommate. His wife, a close friend of ours, answered the phone. When she asked how I was doing, I could not speak. Instead, I started to cry. Not knowing how to react to my tears, she quickly got her husband on the phone. It was the first of many times that my frustrations with church planting would spill out to whomever was bold enough to ask how I was doing. I hope they expected an answer!

The pastor’s life is filled with tribulations, and a few months after my first encounter with my former roommate, I again felt defeated. Our little congregation had made great progress. We’d located a facility that fit our needs perfectly and gathered a launch team to help with the church plant. Initially, there were positive results from our outreach. But I was shocked by what followed—attacks from other pastors, sharp words from team members, and nagging words of defeat from Satan.

After a long day on this roller-coaster ride, I sought refuge in bed. My wife found me there, weeping. I wept away all the heartache and pain. All the nagging thoughts, doubts and selfcriticism came out in a storm of grief. How easy it was to forget that the only thing that really matters is the walk along the path that God has set for me.

When things looked their bleakest, God sent me two heavenly nudges. The first came from the prayers of my wife. I still remember feeling her soft touch on my shoulder as she prayed for me. I recall the faith she had in her voice as she lifted me up to Jesus. The power of those prayers endures in my life. In that moment, she was Jesus to me. A long-time pastor once told me that God never seems to allow a husband and wife team to be down at the same time. I have found this to be true, and it certainly stood the test that day.

The second nudge was how God seemed to encourage my cries. When I felt like I was totally lost, that was when I was actually found by Him. So often, church planters seek the next big thing to make their efforts a success. Postcards, Web sites, cool sermons and great meeting locations are really secondary to our reliance on Jesus, the only One who can help us to succeed.

How do we create a reliance on Jesus? I think we do that through prayer. We should pray for everything, regardless of how things are going. We should pray for our postcard mailers, for our neighbors, for our yet-to-be-determined church home—and we should encourage our members to be doing the same. We should lead by example.

Prayer is the diary of our soul. It is how we express our desires and our needs, our wants and our hopes. It is how we demonstrate our reliance on Jesus. It is how we communicate our need to be utilized by God. Church planting is a merging of our desire to be useful to God with His desire to reach the lost, creating a holy union.

So, yeah, I cry . . . but every tear I shed creates a new reason, and a new opportunity, to pray.

Watch another church planter share his heart in “The Mistress” at www.cmalliance.org/resources/av/extras.jsp

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