God Moments Missions Travel Cartoon Posted June 22, 2020

Don't stop me now.

I used to have a pretty skewed view about church leaders.

As far as I knew, they had officially reached "Point B" in their sanctification journey. They supposedly no longer struggle with sin, or get tired, or get discouraged. They can do anything they want because their check is always good with God. They could rest easy knowing their lives will essentially play out like a Hallmark movie.

Then there's me… who’s got bigger problems than waiting in line for Starbucks. I have anxiety issues that can paralyze me at any given moment. I can jumpstart a vehicle with the amount of anger deep inside me. I struggle to love people. In fact, I struggle to even love myself. Mostly everything about my life is just a mess. Forget being a leader; I don't even deserve to be called a “Christian.”

In recent years, I realized I had a pretty skewed view on God as well. I can actually remember the exact day, because that was when — for some reason — God told me to get a mission trip going. It wasn't through an audible voice, but a distinct feeling within my heart. I may not have even felt it had Jesus not already come into my life, and in that process replace my heart of stone with one of flesh (Ez. 36:26). Suffice to say, I was excited and overflowing with joy that God still had wondrous plans in my life.

This is a message for "the rest of us." Because if someone like me can help advance the Kingdom of God, you can too. From what would eventually become a mission trip to Detroit, there were three things that I learned about being an effective leader in Christ. The first one is there is grace for yesterday's sins and shortcomings (Ps. 34:5).

I miss being paid to design stuff like this.

In 2017, I was an Administrative Assistant at the Summit Christian Church in Akron. The body was without a senior minister at the time, so a few people thought I was the next best person to get a trip going. But I never led a life group up at that point. Nor have I attended seminary. Nor have I even read the Bible from cover to cover. When I went to ask the elders, I was all but certain they would laugh me out of the room.

That wasn't quite the case. The elders actually gave me the approval, but I can't say they expressed much optimism. They already decided to commit their resources in finding a new minister and save money wherever they could. Everything had to be self-funded. This meant no fundraising events (e.g., a car wash or community dinner) and no donations (tax reasons).

But that wouldn't be the only thing discouraging me. As months passed by, I felt Satan trying my faith more and more. It was oddly reassuring in a way, because why pull all the stops on something that God wouldn't allow to begin with? But things really appeared hopeless as the final deadlines drew near. With less than three weeks to go, only three people were on board — and six people were required to make a group happen. The money wasn't there, and the van we were originally going to take ended up being out of commission.

I was nearly about to pull the plug on the whole thing when I received a phone call from a nearby Methodist church. Word apparently got around, and a family of four was ready to commit to the trip.

Then three more people from Summit Christian joined, bringing the final soul count to ten. All remaining balances were soon paid off, and each of us were able to chip in to rent out a large van from Enterprise.

And just like that, we were off to Detroit. The second thing I learned about being an effective leader in Christ: There is power to overcome today's temptations (Gal. 5:16-17).

It's something of a minor miracle that this church still looks like this.

For this trip, we partnered with Motown Mission — a program within the Metropolitan UMC. The staff was very accommodating, and they supplied us with everything we needed for our designated work sites. We worked with Arts & Scraps, a recycling plant that refurbishes materials for children's toys. We also helped the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI) expand their first agricultural neighborhood. During our free time, we toured a few historic sites and even made a break for the Canadian border.

Our day with Arts & Scraps.

Our day with the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative.

It was here where I delivered my first sermon, which was based on the Parable of the Potter. And why not? Detroit was the envy of the world many decades ago, and this church we stayed at is a staple of the city's once-prosperous era. It was like a castle — complete with custom tiled floors, ceiling paintings, and a sanctuary that could hold up to eight-thousand people. But this city would soon be plagued by civil unrest, racism, political corruption, and a changing economy. Many people here face broken homes and lives as a result.

I was a lot more nervous than I let on.

But does that mean God has abandoned this place? Absolutely not. People immediately noticed when we were picking up trash, planting vegetables, and repurposing materials right in their own neighborhood. That sweet sight of hope gave way to many God conversations. Just like we were willing to give our time, talents, and ability to work with these people, God is willing to shape us into a vessel of honor if we let Him.

And I needed to hear God and be corrected where I needed to be, because Satan was pulling no punches. Praying became an explicit survival tactic. My anxiety levels were so high, they were producing shockwaves throughout my entire body. I was having frequent nosebleeds and could not sleep at all. I wasn't able to hide my problems on the last day, and I had barely gotten us out of Michigan before asking my wife to drive the rest of the way home.

As it turns out, being a leader in Christ is one of the hardest things you can ever do. If you look at the statistics about these people and depression, burnout, health, spirituality, and longevity — none of them are good. Many leaders are deathly afraid of failing, and they usually only last a few years in their ministry. But here's the third and probably the most important thing I've learned about being an effective leader in Christ: There is promise of a future that holds no condemnation (Rom. 8:1).

Failure is an inevitability, but those in Christ will not fall. God always has a purpose, even for our shortcomings. I may have been ill-prepared for this trip and the spiritual warfare that followed... but it has led me to read my Bible more, fight my sins more, fix my eyes and follow Jesus more. And I will continue to walk in the Spirit knowing I can do nothing without Him (John 15:5).

Anyone with this mindset will be that much more powerful of a tool God can use.

Would totally do this again!