I used to think I could do anything I set my mind to. I no longer believe that. I realize that I have limits. There are some things that are absolutely too hard for me to do myself. I hit that wall one sunny afternoon sitting in the stands watching my brother graduate from boot camp. I couldn’t breathe. Something was very wrong. I realized over the next few weeks that my nerves were shot and I was dealing with panic attacks. For the first time in my life, I realized the limits of what I could handle. I also realized what happens when I blow past those limits. It’s not pretty.
It was hard to see at the moment, but I realize now that I was walking with a dying church through the stages of grief most famously described by Ross and Kessler. Even as I was planning for the launch of a new church, I was helping our remnant members walk through the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
At first, the group assumed that this was just another program like the hundreds of other programs they had endured. If they just held out long enough, this young pastor might throw it out and try something less insane. The denial stage was pretty quiet. The same can’t be said for the stage of anger. When it became obvious that there was no turning back, the grieving began in earnest. The anger had to be directed to somebody, and I was the easiest target. I had meeting after meeting listening to members voice their frustration over the name change, the volume levels of music, the financial implications of the restart path, the removal of an archaic organ…the list goes on and on.
Throughout the process, we had regular meetings to talk about what was happening. Our local district leader joined me for one of those final meetings. He may not have realized it but the weight was so intense in those moments that I felt like I could hardly breathe. I turned to him and said, “I don’t think I can take much more of this. Can you just step in and cover for me throughout the meeting tonight?”
I knew the anger wasn’t just about me. They were letting go of something that had been a part of their lives for decades. Of course, there was going to be some intense grief involved.
It was during those times that I opened God’s Word in the morning and pleaded for God to sustain me through the words of Scripture. He did. I began to feel a connection to the Apostle Paul who also seemed to struggle with what others thought about him. I kept a journal of what God was saying to me about getting my identity from Him and not from others. I still use that journal to help others who are struggling with enslavement to pleasing people.
It was Psalm 139 that became my lifeline. Every word of that text seemed like water for a thirsty soul. I learned that God was with me even in the darkest night…that I am wonderfully made. Slowly the healing began. As the new church (Northwest) began to grow and flourish, I knew enough about myself to know that any success was because of God. I heard someone say a few years ago that God really can’t use you to your fullest until you understand the depths of your brokenness. God had not just walked with a church through death and resurrection. He had been walking with a pastor through death and resurrection. Out of the struggle and brokenness, I emerged understanding that I am nothing without Him. He must have known a restarted church also needed a restarted pastor.
Considering leading a restart?
If you are considering leading a restart, it will be difficult. But God knows what he is doing. He has wonderful plans for you and your church. But don’t be fooled into thinking that it is only your church that needs fixing. God has some work he wants to do in you in this process as well!