I had just shut my church down, putting to end five years of planting, struggling and depleting our retirement.
I prayed as my church members, many of whom I’d won to Christ, scattered to the four winds. I prayed they’d find welcoming congregations and stay faithful in their Christian walk now without me to continually bug them.
And then I sat and waited on God.
It’s tough when you’re waiting on God. The tough part is mainly continuing to believe He’s still at work in your life, that there’s some goal or outcome He’s preparing you for. You tell yourself He surely must be at work, but begin to wonder if that’s just wishful thinking.
You wait, and pray, and wait some more…nothing.
You start wondering if there’s something you’ve missed, if God is waiting on you to change something or repent of some sin you’re evidently too sinful to recognize.
You begin to second-guess your own worth, and think maybe God has moved on to better candidates for His work. In your heart, you know you wouldn’t blame Him. You know your faults and limitations better than anyone.
But still you hope, and sometimes that’s the hardest part…
…because sometimes it hurts too much to keep hoping. It would be easier just to give up on hoping, and embrace your “new normal”. Take your place among the wreckage where you deserve to be, and look on while He works wonders through others.
You feel yourself sinking, sinking, sinking into insignificance.
You start feeling like the one kid no one wants to pick for their Red Rover game, except it’s God who won’t pick you. You need to get out of bed and do something, yet there’s nothing to get up and do. You roll over and pull the covers over your head, feeling a darkness wrap around you as well.
Then suddenly, everything changes.
Of course, it didn’t happen instantly. One day, there was an email from a ministry friend from the past. They had an opportunity, and wondered if I’d be open. When they explained the opportunity, it didn’t seem possible – it was actually more than you could ever deserve: a church that was struggling yet still had huge potential.
They needed a pastor with a vision to reach the unchurched. And their facility, which was massive (as opposed to my church plant’s rented hall), was nestled smack dab in the middle of the same kinds of people I’d been reaching before. It was a major city surrounded by artists, creatives, young families – most of whom had no religious foundation at all.
After years of inward focus, the church recognized they had to reach these people to survive. When we visited, they seemed willing to take a risk on an atypical pastor with an overdeveloped sense of humor and a love for messed up people.
Here I sit at a new coffee shop, writing on my computer in a brand new city. We’ve moved our family and now have settled into a small 3 bedroom apartment. I’m getting a descent full-time salary, and even health care which we haven’t had for 5 years. I have a church campus so large I don’t know what to do with it all, especially after having nothing for so long.
Sure, it won’t be easy. There are lots of things that have to change. But I’ll be making a living to support my family, so I won’t be waking up in the middle of the night wondering how we’re going to survive. I just have to be a loving and patient pastor to the church, while reaching out to the diverse people in the neighborhoods around us.
I didn’t write anything until now because it was such an overwhelming experience, I needed time to process it. But everything God was doing finally hit me just the other day after being here almost a week…
We were walking around a big park across the street from our apartments. I’d actually been a little disappointed we had to move into an apartment from a 4 bedroom house in our old city. But it was all we could find and we needed to move and get started.
I’d heard about a great theatre group that met outdoors in our new city somewhere. It had a national reputation, and was something I would love to get involved in. In my last city, I’d evangelized by getting involved in local theatre and building relationships with people there. It was one of the things that made me attractive to my new church.
As we were walking through our new massive park across from our apartment, I started seeing signs. Not signs from God…at least, not specifically…but public signs with the name of that theatre on them. We rounded a corner and there it was. The outdoor theatre I’d heard so much about was about a 15 minute walk from my new home.
It was at this moment the totality of all God had set up for me came rushing into view.
He led me to start a church, focused on reaching out to artists.
We’d struggled, won some to faith, but couldn’t make it financially.
But the successes we’d had got the attention of another church, struggling to reach the very people I was reaching.
God moved us to a new city…with everything I loved situated literally right across the street from us.
God had already given me….what is that word the tv preachers throw around so much…”favor”? He’d given me favor with people I’d never met, so our new work could move into fast-forward.
So here I sit, in a new coffee shop, staring new opportunities in the face. And I realize finally, all the pain was indeed worth it.
Every disappointment, and every single sacrifice. Worth it, completely. There was a purpose, a hand working behind the scenes. And I didn’t have to be strategic or smart or hip or relevant.
I only had to be obedient. What dummy couldn’t pull that off?
Don’t worry, I know new pain is coming eventually. Nothing worthwhile happens without a struggle. And I’ll keep you updated on those new challenges as they arise.
But for now, listen to this testimony and be reminded: your answer is on its way. God has not forgotten you. There is a purpose at work, though at times life seems random, even cruel.
This I promise you…you’ll be trudging forward one day, with your head down and heart in your hands. You’ll just be trying to put one foot in front of the other. Barely making it.
And then, suddenly, unexpectedly, with no forewarning…the clouds will part, the sun will pierce through your murky reality. And you’ll see what all the pain was for.
When you do, don’t try to be poetic or spiritual, because you won’t be able to. Trust me, you’ll be so overwhelmed by God’s goodness, you’ll need to just keep things simple when it hits you.
Best suggestion: just try to breath. When God surprises you with His goodness, breathing may be the best you can pull off.