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January 30, 2018

The Dark Soul of the Driven Planter

By Adam Mabry

Tears stained my journal.

I was writing furiously, pouring out my anxious thoughts to God. My passions and prayers poured out in ink on paper. I was in one of the darkest places of my life. As a pastor.

I don’t know what you do when you feel bad. Maybe you shove it all down, telling yourself that good men of God don’t have to experience negative emotions. Maybe you yell it out, justifying your anger by the difficult nature of the work you do. Or, maybe you find your way into a bottle from time to time, not to black out but just to take the edge off.

Or, maybe you are the most dangerous one of all, the one who thinks that what I’ve just described of a dark and difficult season won’t ever mark your life. You’ll plant differently. You’ll push through it. You’re stronger. Well my friend, I hope you’re right. But just in case you’re not (and trust me, you’re not) keep reading.

The driven man who plants a difficult work to make disciples of Jesus will experience the darkness. It’s just going to happen. In my experience, there are three common ways this darkness comes to envelop us.

Envy

Church measuring contests are just the worst. I’ve led a really little church, and now l lead a rather large one. You know what I’ve discovered? Smallness or largeness are both fertile grounds for envy’s darkness. Do you find yourself talking about people and budgets more than you should? Do you look over your shoulder or at another church’s Instagram to see how you’re doing? That’s envy. Don’t play that game, fellow planter. The yawning hunger of envy is never satisfied by people and money.

Self-Pity

“It should be different than this!” he shouted. I was counseling a fellow church planter, and he was simply frustrated at the work and the state of things. Disappointment is the gap between expectation and reality. Self-pity is the sinful response to disappointment. Look, you’re not going to be happy with everything that happens in your church. You will feel disappointment. So, guard your heart. When disappointment comes, recognize it as a need for grace, not an excuse for self-absorbed unhappiness.

Earning Your Humanity

This one is my speciality. When the darkness seeks to hide His face, instead of resting on His unchanging grace, I get to work. I don’t work hard to earn my salvation; we pastors are too savvy for that. Instead, I do something worse. I work hard to earn my humanity, my sense of useful, image-bearing creativity before God. That’s not a gift of salvation but of my creation.

What to Do in the Dark

So there I was, frustrated, angry, and disappointed. I was jealous of the way church and life was going for others. I felt full of pity. So, I resolved to work harder; new outreaches, better services, stronger sermons. This time it was going to work.

But then, in the midst of my hurried emotions, my Healer came.

Breath. Grace. Breath.

I sat there with all of my ugly, swirling emotions. I suddenly because aware that God was there too. He saw it all.

He read my journal and my heart. He saw me, His servant, as His son. He loved me in the mess of my heart, my sin, and my angry tirade in pen and ink. Suddenly, by the Spirit, I just knew He was, He was good, and He was with me.

There was God, my great savior, saving me again.

God didn’t solve my emotions that day. I didn’t walk away with any better sermons. No new programs were birthed from that moment. But upon reflection, there are four things that got me through that dark moment and keep getting me through dark moments.

  1. Great savior. With a Spirit-saturated life with Jesus, darkness in this life is just a foretaste of the next. But with our great savior, darkness in these brief days are just the light, momentary afflictions preparing for us a weighty glory.
  2. Great pastor. Every pastor needs a pastor. I have a few great ones. I don’t mean coaches, strategists, or consultants. I mean pastor. What human being have you given authority to speak into your life so he can speak the darkness out of it?
  3. Great friends. Planter, if you get really depressed, who can your wife call that will actually show up and help you? Great friends are hard to find, but the few that God has given me would get on a plane (and have) to help me.
  4. Great counselor. I fully believe in the benefit of great Christian counseling. For some pastors, this makes them feel like lepers. If that’s you, I’d simply remind you that you’re not a leper, you’re worse. And besides, Jesus heals lepers. Through a counselor, He may just wish to heal you.

I don’t know if tears stain your journal. Maybe you’ve not yet had the dark night of the soul. But in case you do, remember to not give way to pitiful envy or work-harder inhumanity. Remember your savior’s beauty and the good gifts He’s given you to help you. When you find them, you find Him. Darkness abates, and you may just start walking in some of that victory you like to preach about so much.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adam Mabry

Adam Mabry (@adammabry) serves as the Lead Pastor of Aletheia Church in Boston, MA. He lives in Boston with his wife, Hope, and their four kids. Fueled by a passion for the truth and grace of the gospel to change lives, He has spent his life up to this point planting churches and working with church planters. He speaks extensively on church planting and coaches various planters around the world within the Every Nation family of churches. His books, thoughts, and other resources are available at adammabry.tv.

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