Everything in my preparation leading up to this moment was about making sure I was adequately prepared and had all the practical pieces in place. There wasn’t even a hint of hesitation from the elders in multiple previous conversations, yet here we were. The specific niceties in the rejection letter were irrelevant. The kind introduction and conclusion didn’t matter. The compliments and praise in the middle fell on deaf ears. What mattered was the meaning of the words, which I interpreted as “You don’t have what it takes to do this.”
In my preparation, I had interviewed multiple other church planters and leaders, and I knew the history. Vast amounts of money had been invested in establishing doctrinally conservative, biblically faithful churches here in the middle of Manhattan. I knew a lot of stories of crushed hopes and dreams.
In the days that followed this series of unfortunate events, as I began to face despair and hopelessness, I picked up a book on C.H. Spurgeon’s battle with depression and began to read it. In chapter 4, Spurgeon describes the tactics of the devil. He says, loosely paraphrased: “When the accuser comes against you and tells you that you are inadequate, you are unable, you have sinned, you are unworthy, rather than argue with him you should say: ‘That may be true, but I have an Advocate at the right hand of the father. That may be true, but Jesus lived and died and rose again for me.’ ” As I read those words, my hands trembled, and a new paradigm was formed in my heart. It was true; I was unequal to the task. I didn’t have what it takes. My strength was unequal for the task that lay before me. I cannot cause someone’s soul to live; I can’t even force someone to come to church, much less build one.
I realized that day that those negative things were true. And that was the point that the Lord wanted me to see. For up until this point, much of my spiritual life had been about my sufficiency, my adequacy, my ability, my training, my strength, my personality, my endurance, my knowledge, my preaching, my music, and yes, even my praying. But the lesson that I would begin to learn that day was the meaning of these words from the Apostle Paul: “ ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor. 12:9).
I didn’t get to leave the fiery furnace, the storms, the wilderness, or whatever blessed metaphor you want to use. But I learned this reality: Christ is with me, and He is the all- sufficient Savior, the Cornerstone, and the Good Shepherd, and He will build His church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. When Christ is lifted up, He will draw all men to Himself. Take heart, weary church leader. Christ lives today.