During the summer of 2013, I was fully convinced that God had sent my family to Milwaukee Wisconsin to plant a church that would change the city. Five years later, I am now fully convinced that God sent us to Milwaukee so that the city could change us.
Prior to planting Imago Dei Church, I had experienced much “success” as a pastor in a mid-sized suburban church. When our elders commissioned us to plant a new church in the heart of Milwaukee, many wrongfully assumed that the next Great Awakening was on the way. Good people who loved God, the church, and my family cheered us on saying, “you have to go somewhere where you can blow up.” Or, “If you preach like that in the city, revival is going to break out!”
In my sinful arrogance and youthful zeal, I did not realize that no ministry strategy can overcome skepticism, apathy, self-righteousness and unbelief. In me. I did not know how deeply imbedded these roots were in my heart until I felt like a failure.
The instant success I thought we would achieve, the people and resources we were promised, little of it came to pass. And I thank God for this. While many of my motives were healthy, they were also tainted with selfish ambition.
I cast vision, promising that we were going to change the world. If we could apply the gospel to issues of racism, segregation, and chronic poverty in the nation’s most segregated city, then we could be a model for holistic gospel ministry for the nation.
The desire to plant a gospel centered church that makes an impact is wonderful. The desire to care for the poor and address issues of Biblical justice in our communities is necessary. The desire to help other churches is great. However, caring for the poor ought never to be a means to an end, however wonderful the end may be. Caring for the vulnerable is a gospel responsibility, not an evangelistic “tool”.
I thank God that He led us to find glorious success in what felt like failure. Through that valley, God revealed and deconstructed some of my false hopes and fleeting ambitions. As He gently brought me to the end of myself, I could see that I am the one who is poor and needy. This has allowed me to begin to understand how to serve with the poor – because I am one of “them.” When I was unable to achieve the success I thought I wanted, I was forced to learn to rejoice in the infinitely greater success of the resurrection.
I still hope and pray that God would heal every area of brokenness in Milwaukee. But now I anticipate and welcome that will include healing the brokenness in me. And since God has promised to complete the good work He began in His church, we can have full confidence the result will be greater than we would even dare to ask for.