Since I’ve occupied my role within church plants for only a few years, I’m a newbie to ministry. I’ve experience some of the common heart-breaking events that take place in ministry, but I’ve dealt with very little in the grand scheme of ministry and life in general.
I am young and have much to learn. But the experiences I’ve had are enough to make me wonder whether I fail more than I succeed.
A New Year and A Crushed Heart
Over a year ago, I was connected with a guy who had left a life of serious sin and wanted to get plugged into a local church. In fact, he wanted to have regular discipleship and guidance. This was exciting—this was why I was in ministry!
We met often.
We enjoyed rich conversations about scripture and Biblical truths that would give me great joy. I remembering sailing home several times, excitedly debriefing with my wife that this is what made me feel like I was in the service of Jesus. This guy had real baggage. But that was not a problem, because I had real vision!
And the questions he would ask; deep, soul-exploring, rich theological questions. They were questions that one would only expect from a regenerate soul. Everything seemed to indicate that the discipleship routine was ‘’working’’. It was such a sweet experience.
Then it wasn’t.
He slid back. No, actually he ran back, as if the world was some kind of nutrition from which he had been temporarily deprived.
I was crushed. I told my wife and my friends that I failed at discipleship. I could have done more; should have done more. We should have read more scripture, prayed more, more encouragement, more admonition.
The ‘more’, ‘shoulda’s’ and ‘coulda’s’ were preaching failure to me at every turn.
As a Reformed church planter, I preach and believe in the sovereignty of God—the biblical teaching that God lovingly controls and directs all things for His glory and our good. God’s sovereignty has captivated me since the day I first heard it taught. It occupies my thinking during many of my waking hours. But seeing my response to my friend’s flight back to the world made me wonder: do I really believe what a say I believe?
Seriously! Do I?
Honestly, sometimes the way I lead or just live my life is a clear visual of my failure to submit to the divine truth of sovereignty. I espouse God’s control, but live as if I’m really the one in charge. I say only God can change the heart, but I live with expectations that my efforts are the real source of power.
Sure, I think like a Calvinist, but I live like an atheist.
Fortunately, my wife is the real Calvinist in my times of relapse. She believes and lives confident in God’s sovereignty when I am not. When my friend tanked and I was crushed, I lamented to her on how I had failed and should have done more. She reminded me that I needed to remember that God is in control. What He wanted to do, He would do. She told me that my goal is faithfulness; that I should leave the fruit to God.
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 1 Corinthians 2:6-7.
My wife reminded me of God’s sovereignty. And you know what, she was right.
Church planters and pastors, in the times when working with people breaks your heart, let Paul’s words provide great comfort. We are called by God to go and make disciples, and we have a guarantee that it will work in His timing. But we can’t control when the fruit arrives. We may never even see the full fruit of our labor. There may even be times when we see the complete opposite of fruit. But we cannot lose hope.
God is sovereign and will do as He pleases (Psalm 115:3). He alone will provide the growth. So as you love, serve and train people within your church, rest in the rock-solid promises of God. And when it seems like your help is failing, remember, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up”. (Gal. 6: 9)