When asked me to be a part of this project I was super excited… then I saw the guys I’d be writing with and suddenly I was stuck. What’s a guy like me to say when these ministry studs are talking? The first thing that came to mind was, “Can I get you a refill on that sweet tea sir?”
You see a couple of years ago I thought I’d be a stud too… speaking at conferences… writing books… telling everyone how to plant churches like I did… you know what I mean. Then it happened.
Let me back up.
In 2007 my bride and I and our girls left a great church in New York. It was a good sized church and a nice salary. There was good momentum happening. We had a great team. It didn’t make sense to leave (so said my dad and several others), but I was (and continue to be) clear about the fact that God was calling us to leave and start a new church.
We went to the Mecca of the church planting world, Mountain Lake Church, and did a one year church planting internship with the guru’s of all things church planting, Shawn Lovejoy and David Putman. During our time there God called us to plant a church in Cincinnati, Ohio.
We left with high expectations. We had a great team, raised enough money, put great systems in place and did everything else we had been taught to plant a great church. But, long story short, that great church never materialized.
Looking back on those painful days, we now reverently refer to that experience as our “ministry miscarriage.” We had dreams of what the church would look like, the things we would do, and the stories of life change we would tell. We knew that God had called us, would empower us, and would ultimately be honored through what our church would do. It didn’t happen.
We were rocked to the core. Our faith was staggered. We doubted our ability to lead, our spiritual discernment, and even our call to ministry. Through it all God kindly kept nudging us in the right direction but the embarrassment and pain was deep.
I had to tell people who believed and in us and tell them there would be no church. I had to stand in front of Mountain Lake Church with my friend and coach, Shawn Lovejoy, and tell them we would not be planting the church they had trained us to plant. The whole experience was like a non-stop beating to the stomach.
Long story short, I’m still in ministry. I’m a pastor in Rock Hill, SC. I still ache sometimes. Occasionally I still wonder “why?”, and I’m pretty sure I’ll always have a limp from this experience, but I’m also sure I’ll run again… … and the future excites me.
There are a few things that have helped me rebound from this ministry miscarriage. I want to tell you about them but before I do you need to know that while our ministry miscarriages may not look the same. Every ministry miscarriage hurts and has the potential to cripple.
Fear, doubt, anger, etc. are all emotions that can sideline you from dreaming again and I don’t want that for you.
So, here are five actions that helped and continue to help me bounce back.
I started working out harder than I have ever worked out. Now you may not be able to tell it from my biceps, but those hard work outs began to give me strength… both physical and emotional. Going to the gym was an important part of my recovery.
2. Do Something Different
I was able to get a motorcycle and rode as much as I could. Riding was therapeutic for me. I had never owned or driven a motorcycle to speak of so this was new for me. The sensation of taking a road trip and overcoming the fear that came along with that was important for me. I proved to myself I could still do new things and I wasn’t a chicken!
…but not blogs and church books. Take a break from your standard reading. My greatest reading came from biographies and autobiographies. It was during this time of recovery, that I came across this quote from Howard Schultz in his book “Onward – How Starbucks Fought For It’s Life Without Losing It’s Soul”:
After reading these words I wrote in my journal, “I can lead, live, and dream again!”
For me, during my recovery period, reading church books and ministry blogs was like laying my hand on a hot grill. I walked away from it for a while and am glad I did.
4. Date Your Spouse
When you tank a ministry or experience a failure of another sort don’t forget… your spouse felt the weight of that too! Remember this, you were both excited about it before it started. You both sacrificed so that it could start. You are both staggering now that is has flat-lined. Hold her hand. Cry together. Ask questions together. Watch movies together. Dance together. Laugh, walk, eat… do it together! Don’t let a ministry failure lead to a marriage failure! Show up for that relationship no matter how you feel… and keep doing it! It’s worth it!
5. Maintain Basic Spiritual Disciplines
Prayer, Bible reading, journaling, spiritually invigorating relationships (for me, one of these was a counselor)… don’t stop these things; that’s like refusing to eat because you’re hungry! If there’s ever a time when you need to draw close to God it is now! I wore a path along the river where I threw rocks in the water and had some difficult conversations with God. My journal is filled with agony and questions and my Bible is worn out and marked up from all the page turning. Often I didn’t feel like talking with the God who I was disappointed with and confused by… but I did. Over time I am coming to realize something… God is pretty smart. He’s not baffled by any of the stuff that stumps and staggers me. He is strong and safe and invites me to come to Him and the basic spiritual disciplines are a pathway to His door.
Well there they are… five things that helped are helping me recover from my most painful ministry experience yet!
There is no single thing, no silver bullet, which will make recovery quick and instant. It is the synergy of all of these (and perhaps more) actions over time plus the grace of God that is birthing health and hope again!
If you have failed don’t give up!
Stand up and begin the journey towards recovery and happiness again! You can do this!