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I have been for years. It’s hurt me. It’s hurt my family. I never meant for it to hurt them, but looking back, I’ve come to realize it’s done more damage than I care to admit. It has almost broken me, I mean, really broken me… more than once.
The problem with the kind of addiction that I have is that it feels really good. Now that I think about it, I guess most addictions do when you’re living them—that’s why you keep them. They become friends. They become personal.
So maybe the bigger problem with my kind of addiction is that it gets results. It gets praise. It gets applause. And it feels like God is somehow pleased with me. I feel like I’m helping, creating… advancing the Kingdom even.
I remember when we completed our first major building project. I felt like I had just run the ‘Rocky Balboa steps’ in Philadelphia. I felt like I got to the top and I was looking down on the city like I conquered it. It was deeply satisfying. Like a hit of heroin in needy veins.
I pastor a fairly large church in a very unchurched area just south of Detroit, Michigan. My wife and I, along with 20 others, launched it from scratch about 16 years ago in our home. I was just 30 years old. Nearly everyone on the launch team was about 20. We had no sponsoring churches or organizations. No outside funds. Our first offering was $34.17.
The Detroit area has been a little rough for as long as I’ve been alive. Money doesn’t flow here like it does in other parts of the country. There’s decay and brokenness everywhere. But we believe that God brings dead things back to life. And the little church that started in our living room started to grow. At about 5 or 6 years into it, we were about 500 people strong, with about 80% of attenders under 35 years old. Almost nobody was over 40. We had very little collective wisdom, skill or money. We were broke in every sense of the word.
But we needed a building. We had been setting up and tearing down multiple days a week at different venues for weekend services and student ministries. We had been renting a school. They were kind, but they wanted us out. Long story short, we rented an abandoned 35,000 square foot grocery store. (But I need to tell you sometime how God miraculously provided for our church. It really is unbelievable.)
I remember standing in front of our young congregation saying that we found a home and that we were going to turn it into a sweet, modern facility with a 550 seat auditorium, complete with a full-scale cafe that would be open to the public. And that we were going to do it all for $300,000. And that we were going to do it in 90 days. We had lost our lease and that was all the time we had.
But I was committed, and I really did believe that we could do this. What I need to tell you is that I am really just a building contractor turned pastor. I owned and operated a pretty robust building company. I actually didn’t receive a salary from the church until we were about 1000 people a week and about ten years old—and even then my first salary was a hundred bucks a week!
I was good at making money. And I was good at organizing and building things. And I knew ‘my church’ would never make it if I took a salary, so I worked to take care of my family and to take care of the church.
We moved our tools into our abandoned grocery store on Halloween and for the next 90 days, I worked. Yes, hundreds of volunteers worked. But literally, I worked every day—16 or more hours a day. I still preached. I still ran my business. And I was in that grocery store every day leading scores of volunteers on a nearly 24 hours a day, seven days a week work marathon.
We didn’t make our 90-day goal. From the day we moved our tools in until the day of our first service was 111 days. It’s hard to believe, but it was one of the nicest, most modern facilities around, complete with a full-scale, open to the public cafe, built 95% by volunteers.
And I was proud. Exhausted, but proud. I was fired up to fill that place with people. And we did. Over the next 4 years, we grew to about 1000 people a week. I continued to work full-time in the marketplace. We had two full-time staff and I wasn’t one of them.
After four years or so at the grocery store we lost our lease again and needed to go somewhere else. This time we bought an abandoned 45,000 square foot SPORTS AUTHORITY building next to Home Depot at one of the busiest intersections in our area. God virtually gave us the place. (I really do have to tell you that story sometime too. God truly provides for His purposes.)
We did the same thing. I stood in front of our people and told them the deal was done. God gave us an incredible home for pennies and all we needed to do was show up to build it. It took about 9 months, but we did it with about 95% volunteers. And I was there, almost every day, to lead it and to build alongside scores of volunteers. All this while still working in the marketplace to keep my business alive, not to mention leading and preaching at a growing, active church.
Just a couple of years later we grew to about 1,700 people a week. And we dreamed and felt God calling us to do it again. This time we believed that God had called us to launch a second campus. And it seemed like He provided a perfect building at a perfect price. We bought a 66,000 sq. ft. building that used to be a Medical/Recreational Complex, complete with four tennis courts and an Olympic-sized pool.
We filled in the pool and created one of the coolest church campuses in America for its size and for the money we spent. It looks and feels like a giant Panera Bread with an attached community center, a full-size gym/rec center, along with the largest playscape you’ve ever seen.
The only problem was that I sold the vision that we could convert this oversized, vacant-for-13-years building into what it is today with mostly volunteers in under a year… ” if ” we’d all just work together.
It didn’t happen. We did it with mostly volunteers because we had no real money, but it took three years. Three long, hard, excruciatingly painful three years.
What started off with a bang ended with a crawl. We lost momentum. We lost volunteers. We lost long-time members. We lost income. We lost leadership capital. Mostly, I almost lost me.
I think I did lose me. I was defiantly determined to complete this building. If we didn’t, we would have lost everything as a church. We invested a couple of million dollars and I was not about to lose it. Losing it was a real possibility if we didn’t complete it. Loans were coming due. People were beginning to lose faith.
Because of my building trades background and leadership skills, I was at that building nearly every day for three years. I had to be there. At least I thought I had to be there. But it was costly.
It cost me lots of money. It cost me much of my marketplace business. It really cost me my health. I physically felt and still do feel beat up. But those were the cheap costs. It cost my family life. I missed three years with my kids in the prime of their childhood. I lost time that I will never get back. My relationship with my wife was beyond strained. She was hurt and frustrated and lonely because my work/ministry had become my mistress. She had the right to be those things. She had the right to be mad. I was a terrible husband, father, and friend. (I am blessed to have an amazing wife and kids who stood by me and sacrificed more than I ever should have asked them to.)
I didn’t mean to be those things, but that is what addiction does.
It makes you become what you never thought you’d become.
And I nearly lost my ministry. Most people in my church never knew, but at the end of that three-year run, I seriously considered quitting the ministry. Quitting had never even crossed my mind before. But I was broken. I was way out of balance. I was disappointed. And I wasn’t sure what God wanted from me.
It’s been over six months since we opened that campus. It’s beautiful and it’s being filled with people. We actually have about 1000 visitors there every week because of the community center. No doubt God is using it. But looking back… I’m not so sure that the process honored God.
I’m working on my work addiction. I wish I could give you three steps to recovery, but I don’t think I can… not yet anyway.
I just know that God wants my devotion to be to Him and not what I can do for Him. Maybe that’s step one?
And do you know what I’m doing tonight? I’m going to one of my son’s baseball games.
It was extremely foggy driving into work this morning. I had to drive much slower since visibility was almost zero. I felt myself slowing down in the uncertain areas and speeding up in the more familiar ones. Headlights and traffic lights couldn’t be seen until you were almost on top of them. As I pulled into the steel plant where I work, the sun began to peek through. I knew the fog would dissipate quickly now. Heading towards my office, on the road that runs parallel to the Detroit River, the fog began to clear and I could see the diehard walleye fishermen in their boats along the shoreline, Canada directly across the river, the Renaissance Center in the distance and the road in front of me lined with piles of scrap metal and steel rolls. Pulling into my parking spot, it suddenly dawned on me how my drive in was a great analogy of how (at least in my life) God calls me to trust Him, especially through the tough times.
Let’s face it – most of the time we aren’t given a blueprint on how the circumstances in our lives will play out. Where He is calling us to go – What He is calling us to do. I’m lucky if I even know in which direction I should take that first step. To be honest, I feel pretty clueless much of the time. But through years of following Him, closely and not so closely, one thing I’ve realized is, even if you aren’t sure of the direction, God just asks for movement. One step in the fog. He will clear the way a bit for the next step. And then the next step. Slower through the uncertain areas, a bit faster through the familiar ones. Drawing closer to Him, it gets brighter. The fog lifts and the Son shines. In that Light, you may still find some ugly scrap piles but then again, you may just find that amazing view of the Detroit skyline that you love so much.
There aren’t too many times in Scripture where we can find God asking someone to do something and then giving that person all of the details, all the steps needed. The people of Israel trusted God to lead them day by day. Numbers 9:17-20 tells of the Cloud of God leading them. “Whenever the cloud lifted from over the sacred tent, the people of Israel would break camp and follow it. Whenever the cloud settled, the people of Israel would set up camp. In this way, they traveled and camped at the Lord’s command wherever He told them to go. Then they remained in their camp as long as the cloud stayed over the Tabernacle. If the cloud remained over the Tabernacle for a long time, the Israelites stayed and performed their duty to the Lord. Sometimes the cloud would stay over the Tabernacle for only a few days, so the people would stay for only a few days, as the Lord commanded. Then at the Lord’s command they would break camp and move on.” The Israelites had no clue where God was leading; they had to trust His guidance. By only showing us a step at a time, we learn to trust God and not ourselves.
“The steps of a man are established by the Lord.” ~ Psalm 37:23a When we truly, fully believe this, we will trust Him better.
I recently read a little article called 11 Pains of Being a Pastor. It sort of hit me hard. It hit me as in, ‘this is really true’. I’m going to give you the entire list because I’ve lived each one of these. When I read them I felt the hurt and sadness again in somewhat vivid color as names and faces of people flashed through my mind.
It probably won’t hit you quite the same way it hit me unless you share the same job as a pastor that I do. I’m wondering if it will resonate with you because, it’s my guess, if you are a Christian and you really do believe in all this Jesus stuff about reaching His world with His love and all that, you’ve been hurt. You’ve been disappointed because you care.
Here’s the list that Pastor Chuck Lawless penned in his article posted on ChurchLeader.com.
I think numbers 4 and 10 evoke the deepest pain for me.
I’m thinking that you can relate to a bunch of these if you’ve cared enough to purposely engage people in this thing we call ministry. When we pray for people, call people, reach towards people, encourage people, love people, share with people, give to people and then we pray some more and things don’t move in the direction we were hoping, it’s heart breaking. When we were so sure that, ‘GOD WAS IN THIS’, and then He wasn’t…it’s disappointing. When we felt we heard His voice so clearly and did all we could to move towards His leadership but it just didn’t work out, we’re more than confused. We’re hurt…even angry!
I really do want to be used by God. I know I screw it up all the time. But I try. I really do try. I pray hard. I try to be generous with my time and resources. My family sacrifices so much, more than I do. I try to make myself available to as many people as possible. I study like crazy and try to listen to God’s leadership so I can bring the best message that I possibly can week in and week out. I counsel. I strategize. I encourage.
I simply do the best that I can but they leave anyway. People divorce. People get angry or disappointed. People criticize. They don’t respond, serving needs go unmet and the list goes on.
I write all that not to get any ‘nice comments’ or to make anybody feel sorry for me. Not at all.
I just wanted to say that with all these ‘pains’ in mind, I would still do it all over again. I’d leave my career in business, building homes to build the kingdom all over again. The joys of pastoring are so powerful that I’ll take the risk of these pains any day.
I am so grateful for a church that has let me ‘grow up’ as we’ve grown up. I have made so many leadership mistakes and the little church I serve has loved me through them. I am grateful for the countless gentle words of encouragement. I’m grateful for the partnership found in countless acts of sacrifice that has built our faith community.
Yes, there has been pain, deep pain at times. But the joy that God has given overshadows everything. Simple joy from seeing God at work in big and small ways. Joy from knowing that God has allowed me to play a role, even a slight role in some of it.
And I’d like to remind you of the same thing. That following God’s call into Kingdom Building often comes with hurt and disappointment. People will let you down. Your church will let you down. It’ll seem that God hasn’t come through for you or maybe you’ll wake up one day thinking you heard His call all wrong and you’re the wrong man or woman for the job. You’ll think it’s easier if somebody else does the work of God.
Let me tell you friends, it’s worth it. The joy of knowing that you are quietly answering the call of God overshadows the pain. Trust Him. Keep praying. Keep reaching. Keep serving. Keep building His Kingdom.
Here’s how Paul, the great Kingdom Builder, once said it.
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 2nd Corinthians 4:17.
Paul knew trouble. Boy did he know the pain of ministry. But he also knew an eternal glory that made it all worth it.
I’d like to think that Lynette and I have made a small difference in the lives of the thousands that call Metro their church home. I can truthfully say you have made a difference in our lives. And I’m guessing that you too have made a difference in your world!
Let’s be honest… you and I, we’ll probably never be the best at anything. Some people never try to be the best or even really good at something. Some people just don’t care.
But I care.
Some people seem to just be satisfied with average. Even less than average.
Some people don’t want to dream big or go far or achieve much.
But I do. I really do.
And sometimes I get a little envious of others' success. Ok, I get flat out jealous. I don’t mean to. I don’t want to. But I just have to admit, I do. I have to work on that and guard against it.
But I just want to connect with those who want to dream big and go far and achieve much. I think this drive is from God. God sets it in the heart of people to have ambition. It’s like He set a fire inside of some people and that fire won’t go out until that vision is achieved.
I think God does this in me. He gives me a vision of a preferred future and sometimes it’s like it consumes me. It’s like it possesses me. I go for it. I work hard.
I remember when we started our first buildout as a church. We were renting space at a high school for years. It was fun at the beginning, all the setting up and tearing down. All the super early mornings and really late nights prepping equipment so a hundred people could come and experience God in our church was exciting. I loved it. And it was worth it. But after a while I have to admit it became pure good ole’ fashioned work.
WHAT CAME NEXT WAS LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT.
We rented our first permanent space. It was a 35,000 square foot, old, run- down abandoned grocery store. I remember me and my dear friend, Mr. Ken Bussell, walking into that space. There were no walls, just dreams. And man did we dream.
I remember asking Ken if he had a napkin. We found a napkin and on It we started drawing lines that would eventually define the space that would become our first real auditorium and lobby, our first kids area and Journey Store. We even drew in a little cafe—all on the napkin.
Once that dream caught fire in us we knew we had to build it and believed God was telling us to. We prayed and told God we would try but we knew we needed His help. So we asked Him for help. We asked Him to do something that we knew we couldn’t.
Then God seem to tell me something. I said Ken, I think we can build this whole building out in 90 days. I don’t know if I was trying to convince myself or if I was trying to convince Ken. I thought people would come and sacrifice and believe God for great things. If we could get hundreds of people to volunteer like crazy we could do it in 90 days. We had no money. None. It took everything we had just to secure the lease. We took out personal loans for the build out. So we needed the volunteers. We trusted God for them.
Well, we moved the tools in on Halloween night. I remember that. Got to work the next day. Bummer is, we didn’t make the 90 day dream. It took us 111 days from the day we moved in to the day we had our first Experience in that building.
Did you read that right? 111 days to totally remodel 35,000 square feet with a bunch of volunteers. I remember that time. I was obsessed with the dream. I felt it was from God. (Looking back I have many regrets about the sacrifice my family made but that’s for another blog.) I remember being so driven that nothing else mattered.
So if you dream, what’s holding you back? If God is calling you to something, what are you waiting for? Recently we talked at MetroCITYchurch.tv about how church is the huddle. It’s where we group together and get the game plan going. But it is not the game! We are called to get out of the huddle and into the game.
What are you telling yourself that is keeping you away from God’s best for you?
I saw a list of excuses pastors give why they and their churches are kept from God’s best. It inspired me to come up with my own short list of what I hear people say over and over that keeps them from getting into the game:
“I just don’t have what it takes.”
“It’s somebody’s else’s job. It’s not my responsibility.”
“I’m not a leader.”
“It takes money.”
“I’m too old.”
“I’m too young.”
“I just don’t know what to do to get started.”
“I may not succeed.”
“I get jealous of others.”
“I don’t have an education.”
“I want everyone to like me.”
“I need to understand everything before we begin.”
“I’ve tried before, and I failed.”
“I don’t need a mentor.”
“Porn isn’t that bad.”
“That definitely won’t work here.”
“It’s my fault.”
“It’s not my fault.”
“I stopped caring a long time ago.”
A second century pastor once said, “Let us remove the ignorance and darkness that spreads like a mist over our sight and let us get a vision of the true God.”
Now read that again.
Until you see a big God you will never see a big dream in your life come true. Trust God. Believe God. Follow God. Obey God.
Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21 NLT)
You and me, we may never be the best at anything but isn’t it fun to think God’s dream for us is bigger than our dreams for us?
Thanks for Reading, Pastor Jeremy
It was one of those kinds of days at work today. Metro is moving to a new online database, Elvanto, and I HAVE to learn this for the teams I serve. But teaching myself how to do something is not in my wheelhouse. Databases aren't in my wheelhouse either. Did I mention I had a bunch of (self-inflicted) pressure to get it done and a lot of voices inside my head reminding me how bad I am at this stuff? Five hours later I left with little more than I started with, headed home and got into bed. It was 6 p.m.
I'm going to tell you a secret about me. When I feel defeated, I look at pictures of alpacas on the internet. Some may ask why, but I ask why not? Have you ever seen an alpaca? They are quirky and happy and funny and everything an online database is not. The pictures helped some but I decided to move to my second self-soothing technique, which is watching Tiny House tours. I love to imagine a little tiny house on a beautiful lake where the alpacas run free and databases don't exist. I'm incredibly self-evolved with my coping skills, I know.
Basically I was doing everything short of housework (I wasn't that desperate) to avoid my next task: writing this blog post. Once upon a time, I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I was coeditor of my high school paper and a journalism major for a time in college. Most of my jobs have included writing and when I became a stay at home mom, I wrote a blog that was a highlight of my days during a sleepless, tough season of mothering.
But then...but then I abandoned the writing I loved so much. We left our church of sixteen years and the subsequent grief from the loss of relationships, coupled with the need to "put ourselves out there" every Sunday looking for a new church home just wearied me. I felt vulnerable and unable to take risks that made my writing anything.
And so I let a big part of myself wither.
Fast forward four years later and Pastor Jeremy mentioned the new church blog and how I might want to write on it. But although my heart leapt at the idea, I've been stuck hard in the mud of self-doubt. Uncertainty. Condemnation. The same voices I listened to when trying to learn the database and couldn’t, the same voice when I'm wanting to speak up at a meeting but am unsure, the same voice when I want to reach out to my husband after a fight.
Lara Casey says it like this: "We falsely believe we have to do it all, have it all, be an expert, be better than someone else, be the best, have it all together....and if we aren't, we hesitate. We don't move forward, we don't send it, say it, do it, surrender. We just sit in the lies."
But friends, that's not the life I want to live and it's certainly not what I want to model for our three girls. I want to live a life of courage, of saying and doing and WRITING hard things that are true and good. I want to take risks in my writing because maybe I will connect with you and together we can feel less alone and say yes to all that God has in store for us.
So here it is. As Lara Casey says, "It's okay to grow slow and it's okay to be average". This year I'm going to push myself to write out of a place of security and love even if it comes out creaky. I'm turning away the lies and even the alpacas to lift my face to His. He says there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1), He says I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13), He tells me I'm more than a conqueror through Him who loved us (Romans 8:37). And this, this especially: Behold, I am doing a new thing, now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:19). That is what our loving Father says about us and that is TRUTH.
Will you join me in this? Do one small thing this week that may look small to the world but is a leap of faith for you. Take a risk to listen to His voice and do that hard thing. For me, it's going to be "pressing send" at the end of this. What will it be for you? Tell me about it so I can pray for you and encourage you.