I’m a church planter, and most of what I’ve learned about the church has come the hard way.
Thirteen years ago, on the first Sunday in January, I launched Eastpoint Church. In the 25 or so years before that, I had helped start or reboot six other churches.
None of that makes me an expert, just experienced. I’m still learning. My most recent lesson is one I didn’t especially like, but I needed it nonetheless.
Here’s my latest discovery: At some point in your pastoring journey, you may end up in the land between “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” and what you do then matters—a lot.
In this in-between season, things aren’t necessarily all bad. In fact, you might have much to be thankful for in your church. The bills are paid. The staff are gifted, capable, and faithful. People are showing up and still getting saved.
But the land between often means . . .
- The buzz has faded, and you aren’t the hot new thang in town anymore.
- The faithful are still with you but are much harder to inspire to sacrificial greatness.
- When you announce a new series, the old regulars suspect it’s not that new. They’ve heard most of your stories, and they already know where you’re going (maybe before you do).
- The church is relatively healthy but has plateaued or even declined.
- It is difficult for you to remember the last time you took a true leap of faith, when you put everything on the line in a risky spiritual venture.
I love the Church. It is a great honor to serve the Kingdom as a pastor. It’s what I do and who I am, but above all, it is a calling (one only the called can truly understand). However, even my passion for the Kingdom is difficult to maintain in an environment in which I’ve grown bored or cynical.
I used to hate being comfortable and safe.
I used to love trying something radical and new.
In this past year, however, too much of my life seemed like white noise, and ministry at times felt a bit mundane.
As you might imagine, I’ve wrestled a great deal with a thousand questions regarding my situation. I still don’t have all the answers, but I have figured out a few things.
- It’s good to consistently start new things, especially with an older church and an old pastor. Old is not always the enemy of new (traditions can be good), but unless you are starting new things, you rarely face new challenges. New keeps us fresh. New keeps us focused. New forces us to adapt and grow.
- It’s okay to kill something (even a sacred cow) if it’s not regularly challenging and growing people. Of course, this might get you fired, but at least that will solve the boredom issue. Seriously, though, too often we hold on to an old program or an old methodology with a death grip. I disagree with the common adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” In fact, just because it isn’t broken doesn’t mean it’s what’s best for you, your people or the church. Break it. Kill it. Shake things up from time to time and see what’s next.
- Stop worrying about risk management and start taking more chances again. In high school my music teacher would say, “If you’re going to fail, fail gloriously!” In other words, go for it. Don’t hold back. The worst that could happen is you fail, and failure isn’t always fatal. It’s time to embrace the unknown again. Every great venture of faith in the Bible and in Church history has involved risk.
- Be transparent with your staff, leadership, and church. Frankly, they already suspect something is amiss. A couple of months ago, in a special night of worship and prayer, I very openly shared about some of my struggles. I didn’t know what to expect. However, the response and support of the church has both surprised and blessed me. People trust pastors who are genuine. They prefer a leader who walks with a limp because they do too.
- It’s possible to reset your church, your ministry, and your life. We serve a creative, life-breathing God. Renewal is His specialty. Ask God to show you how to reboot your ministry and your church. He knows and He always has a plan. Always.
I refuse to accept that I’m just old, tired and worn out. It’s not time for me to hang up my lavaliere and move to Arizona! I know that God is not finished with me yet (or you). I know that the vision and mission God etched into my soul thirteen years ago still matters to Him.
I’ve made plenty of mistakes. I’m sure I’ll make plenty more, but He doesn’t require perfection as a condition of His favor. He’s a good Father who delights in using broken vessels for His glory.
We do the possible. He does the HIMpossible. That’s the way it’s always been and always will be. Our part is simply to say yes to God and to trust His plan—whatever that may be.
By the way, that’s where the thrill is found.