So I have hit the ground running at my new church. We have arrived, after saying tearful goodbyes to dear friends in our former ministry field.
I’d given five years of my life to my former church, starting it from scratch. And I’d grown more there in five years than in my previous 30 years of ministry.
In that church with no buildings, I’d learned to see my worth not by how big of a budget I oversaw, but by how much I trusted God and how much love there was between me and my people.
I’d also learned that my ministry wasn’t just to the people who came to my services. I was a pastor to many who never darkened the rented doors of that church. I counseled hundreds of people who either went to other churches or never got up the gumption to try mine. But to this day, they still see me as their pastor and I see them as my flock, though somewhat removed by geography.
It was there I learned to take risks, because paying every bill was a leap of faith. I learned how to leave results to God, so much so that when we finally closed our doors five years later, I didn’t feel at all that I’d failed.
You see, God had taught me all local churches are just temporary. Even the ones with million dollar buildings will eventually go away. Only his universal Church lasts forever. And the people I’d won into his Kingdom were now part of that Church—whether they ever came to one of my services again or not.
So after two whopping months of pastoring a church with a huge facility where I’d had none before, and overseeing a budget that was mostly non-existent before, and working in a church office that replaced the one I kept at the local Starbucks before, I can see Satan’s plan for me quite clearly now…
He’s trying to make me stop depending on God, and start depending on myself again.
I’m already getting engulfed in the challenges of the church. No, nothing catastrophic, but there are very real hurdles moving forward. Before, my success or failure mainly just affected me. Now my failure could possibly hurt a whole church, along with buildings that people paid for over the years and a Christian school parents depend upon.
Yeah, no pressure at all.
I find myself being dragged into morbid introspection with others about how to overcome the stagnation that’s existed in the church for over thirty years now. We bandy around multiple scenarios about how to grow. We play imaginary chess in our heads, wondering about the repercussions of “this move” and the ripple effect it will make throughout the congregation.
Will the music be contemporary enough to attract young adults, but not so contemporary to push away the seniors?
Can we update things without offending the people who put everything in place?
Is there a way to show respect for the church’s past without wallowing in it?
So I’m tempted to think everything depends on my next chess move, my sharpest strategy, my winning masterstroke in this chess game. And Satan is happy with me working hours upon hours at all this.
Why? Because he knows as long as I’m distracted by work I think depends on me, I will avoid taking my church’s need before the God who is really the only One who can fix things.
The problem with thinking it all depends on you is you stay by yourself trying to figure it out and end up avoiding people. And it’s people who are my true ministry, inside and outside the church.
It’s the people are whom you’re called to love and serve, not the buildings, budgets, or programs.
Also, Satan plays to our pride by complimenting us on when our decisions start to produce good results. We get a win, and the compliments ring in our ears for days.
Why would Satan compliment us for winning? Simple. It’s because he knows the game we’re playing is not what’s important. We’re distracted by buildings and budgets while the true battle for the souls of people goes on around us.
And the only one who can win that war is not you and your pitiful little plans, but God…
The very God you are no longer relying on.
So after spending day after day for the last two months cooped up in an office I swore I’d never again be trapped in again, I’ve decided I’m staying away tomorrow.
No, I’m not being negligent of my work. Actually, just the opposite. I’m going to go away from the buildings and spend some time with the only One who can make a dent in any of our challenges. I’m going to chill about the details and pray, dumping all the details on my Daddy.
I’m going to take a situation that was always way over my head and give it to the One who is literally over my head. And by the bended knee, the bowed head, the submitted will, I will soon win the war.
For without staying connected to him, I can truly do nothing that matters…
“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.” – John 15:5-8
So how about you?
How about you stop trying to fix your problems, taking the weight on your shoulders until it breaks you? Take it all to the One without whom you can do nothing. But with whom, your actions and plans suddenly spring to life with renewed power and purpose.
Connect with God, depending on him, and just watch how much fruit you begin to bear when you’re attached to your true Source.
As Keith Green always said, “He is divine, and you are de branch.”
So stay connected, and then you won’t come apart. And God will win the real battle for you!
Dave Gipson is a husband, father of 4 adopted children and one biological child, former foster parent, and pastor at Naples Family Church of Naples, FL. An author, Dave's new highly acclaimed book, "The Seven Surprises: Everyday Epiphanies on Being a Better Human Being," is now available. He also contributes regular commentaries to the Naples Daily News as well as other international publications. He has served churches for the last 25+ years, from Florida to the inner-city of Chicago. Rev. Gipson holds his ordination in the Southern Baptist denomination, and has two earned Masters degrees in Religion and Divinity. Read more at http://davegipson.net.Follow him on Twitter at @realdavegipson.