Last year was year number two of the church that we had planted in 2015. It came with some great highs and some deep lows. One of my tendencies is to look at all the things that went wrong, and blame myself for those things that had not turned out the way I had hoped.
As church leaders, we all look at success stories that we see: churches just recently planted who baptize hundreds or thousands in their first year, mega-churches with the super-hero pastor, churches with amazing social media presence and video clips that go viral overnight. And we feel weak. We wonder if there’s something wrong with what we are doing in our context and our community. Or we wonder if there’s something wrong with us.
As I look back to the past few years, I realize that during the hard times, I have the tendency to put too much blame on myself for what I perceive as failures in the church. If only I had preached better, then that couple that left might have stayed. If only I had been a better friend to that non-believer who was searching for the truth, maybe they would have been saved before heading off in the wrong direction. If only I was better at engaging community, I could grow this church at a quicker pace. If only I was better at making disciples, then we would have a pipeline of leaders ready to take on new roles in advancing the Kingdom.
As church leaders, we all look at success stories that we see: churches just recently planted who baptize hundreds or thousands in their first year, mega-churches with the super-hero pastor, churches with amazing social media presence and video clips that go viral overnight. And we feel weak.
But the more I reflected upon the issue, the more I realized that all of those “if only’s” were focused on me and my weaknesses. And it is true. The very obvious reality is that those weaknesses do exist in me. They are real weaknesses. They are things that I need to become better at; areas in which I need to grow as I mature in sanctification and as a missionary for Jesus Christ and the Gospel.
However, as much as I want to blame much of what I perceived as failures on myself, I also came to realize that I was giving myself far too much credit. Yes, it was because of my weakness that I had failed people. It was because of my weakness that I had failed to live on mission to spread the Gospel. And it was because of my weakness that some relationships broke down.
And yet, it was in the midst of these very weaknesses of not only myself, but the weakness of our whole church, that we got to see the Holy Spirit demonstrate His work. Through our weakness, we were able to see that God Himself would work miracles! Lives changed, people transformed, and new hearts awakened to the glory of God. There was nothing in ourselves that could have accomplished the amazing things that we were able to witness!
Sometimes we as church leaders feel like Moses, when God called him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt: “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’” (Exodus 4:1) Moses is standing in front of God himself in the form of a burning bush! And Moses just stands there denying that God can do anything through him because he figures he’s too weak. “God,” he says, “I’m just too weak. I’m not talented enough. I don’t know what I’m doing. I can’t talk good. I’m…” Moses’s focus was all on himself, rather than the very God who was speaking to him. And yet, as we read on in the story of the Exodus, we see God work many mighty miracles through Moses, even through Moses’s weakness.
When I’m thinking rightly, I am comforted by the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, “But he said to me, ‘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. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” These words make me realize that it’s through our weakness that God’s power is revealed.
But the more I reflected upon the issue, the more I realized that all of those “if only’s” were focused on me and my weaknesses
While we take comfort in the fact that Christ works through our weakness for His glory to be revealed, we must also push forward to grow in those areas in which we are weak. We should never be content to wallow in our insufficiencies and weakness. The knowledge of Christ’s death and resurrection for such weak beings as you and I should push us to perform to the best of our abilities, not to lean back and indulge in laziness. Not performing or striving for our own glory, but for the glory of God.
The author of Hebrews likewise wants to comfort us with the grace that we have in Jesus, but also challenges us to “… lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfector of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1b-2) We are challenged to do our best; challenged to win.
These two seemingly opposite ideas, taking comfort in our weakness and the challenge to be our best, only work together when Jesus Christ is working in us through the Holy Spirit. We do not have it in us to do what God has called us to do by ourselves. But he has given the Holy Spirit to be our helper on this mission to reach the lost and proclaim the Gospel in our communities.
Your weakness does not mean you should shy away from leading if God has called and equipped you to lead: whether as a church planter, a pastor, or in any other capacity, as God’s power is made evident through your weakness. When God’s power is made evident in our weakness, it brings us to our knees in humility and simultaneously pushes us to live with zeal and purpose when we realize God would allow us the wonderful privilege of being used by him.
As we understand our weakness more and more, let us focus on God’s power and glory. His mission will be accomplished. Not because of our strength, but because of His strength through our weakness.