Church planting in American evangelicalism is big. There are countless books, degree programs, podcasts, networks, strategies, models, and denominations all focused on this goal—planting churches. Church planting conferences are every bit as big as other types of conferences that are taking place in our world today. Church planting has become so popular that it could justifiably be called the American evangelical church planting industrial complex.

Every church planting organization and denomination worth its salt has some type of training program for church planters, whether it is a residency, incubator program before launch, coaching sessions, fundraising training, vision casting, or a host of other things. The largest such organizations have assessment retreats designed to determine the readiness and suitability of a potential church planter.

During my time in seminary, I was introduced to all the things that would be needed to plant a church. Every aspect of preparation, from preaching class, to ordination, to fundraising, and everything in between, was built around the concept of being ready and prepared for the tasks that would come. There is a great sense that all those things did prepare me for what was to come. Church history enabled me to have historical paradigms to understand theological issues in a greater context, and systematics helped me avoid theological error. Hermeneutics help me rightly divide the Word, and homiletics taught me to have something to say when I stand up to preach.

But when the day came to actually plant the church and I had a sending church established, multiple lines of funding (or potential funding) lined up, a small group gathering, a place to meet, a website, articles of incorporation, a bank account, trustees for the legal entity, and all those other necessary things, I hit a wall. Or rather, a wall hit me in late August 2017.

The small group was gathering for weekly Bible studies and Sunday services, and we had begun to do extensive fundraising. One of my trustees and I had begun writing support letters and sending them to churches in Texas and Florida—two states where I had a lot of contacts. Yet as we sent those letters, there was trouble looming on the horizon, literally. In the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma were forming. We sent our letters in the earlier weeks of August only to have these two hurricanes hit back-to-back at the tail end of August. Right in the middle of everything, my trustee was arrested on what would turn out to be a false accusation. In the middle of these literal storms and personnel disaster, I received a letter back from a local church in the suburbs of New York City that I had previously worked for and asked for financial support. Their reply could fairly be summarized with the word inadequate.

Take heart, weary church leader. Christ lives today.

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.

A Court, Clay, and the Cross

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