I remember standing in front of a small, diverse, struggling, yet eager group of people passionately proclaiming, “We’re going to be a church for the broken, the addicted, the abused, the struggling, and the sinner!” It was the second service of our newly launched church, Eternal City Church, which met in my living room. During the first service, we baptized five people in a nearby river. God was on the move.
But at the end of this worship gathering, a fight broke out between a newly married couple. The husband aggressively ran down the street while several men followed, eventually restraining him and getting the police involved.
The idea of becoming that kind of church was far more attractive than the reality of being in that kind of church. Welcome to church planting!
Playing the Messiah
In the following months, conflict, complaints, and the consequences of others’ sins bombarded me. As a pastor with a counseling disposition, I wanted to help everyone.
I remember talking with pastor friends about the issues we were experiencing while describing my depressed emotional state. I kept hearing, “you’re not the Messiah,” and I’d respond, “I know!” It was obvious, Jesus is the Messiah. I’m merely an undershepherd.
But it got worse. I’d get a text message, and my heart would drop into my stomach without reading it. I’d get a call from a church member and assume it was terrible news—I was usually right. When my people were in crisis, I was in trouble. When their lives were crumbling, my life powdered, too.I've learned that to pastor people is to shepherd them through their problems, not to solve or save them from their problems. Click To Tweet
During a meeting, we heard a banging on the door at my fellow elder’s house. When Eddie opened it, his neighbor stumbled in, holding a half-empty case of beer in one hand and an open can in the other. I thought, if we get one more person like this in our church, I’m going to die. Talk about demotivation for the mission.
But the turning point came after two very dark incidents.
Needing a Messiah
We hosted a streaming women’s conference in our living room one night. I was in the basement office. The attendees hadn’t arrived, and the pre-conference stream was on upstairs. The worship team practiced an acoustic version of “Lord, I Need You.” Suddenly, I broke down and couldn’t stop crying. It was a strange occurrence.
On the one hand, I was thinking, what is happening to me? On the other hand, I couldn’t stop. The cry turned into a prayer repeating, “Lord, I need you.” I didn’t make a big deal of it, but something was definitely off after that incident. I had less energy and motivation for the mission.
The second came while driving with my wife, Meghan. We were both in a dark place emotionally. While at a stoplight, she looked over and said, “I now understand how people could kill themselves. If I felt like this all the time, I couldn’t live.” I didn’t respond and kept driving. I felt the same thing she just described.
We both started counseling shortly after. My wife received helpful insights, and I was reaffirmed in our calling to plant the church. Soon after, I joined the Biblical Counseling Institute and began taking our people there. I sat in the sessions with Dr. Scipione and our people several nights a week and gained new insights.A pivotal step for any counseling pastor is acting on the fact that Jesus is Messiah, not us. Click To Tweet
I recall talking with various seasoned biblical counselors, asking, “how do you counsel so many different people without getting crushed by their problems?” The answers varied, “I tell them the way to go, then they have to walk in it,” or “you have to compartmentalize people’s problems.” I always gleaned some little nugget of help from these conversations.
Surrendering to the Messiah
I’ve learned that to pastor people is to shepherd them through their problems, not to solve or save them from their problems. A pivotal step for any counseling pastor is acting on the fact that Jesus is Messiah, not us. I realized I was unconsciously taking the burden of healing marriages, freeing people from addictions, ensuring others’ happiness with our church, conflict resolution, etc. I was the functional savior and heaped guilt upon myself if they weren’t saved.
I’d describe the process of counseling/pastoring this way: Your problems are your problems, not mine. Just like my problems are not your problems, they are mine. I can walk you through crises, pray with you, be present, and provide wisdom and resources. Still, ultimately, these issues belong to you and God. We must surrender people and situations to God in prayer.
Dear pastor, Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:29–30). Suppose we are taking the burden of others onto ourselves while not giving that burden over to Jesus. But we aren’t the Messiah—he is.