But I Didn’t Make This Mess!

By Keith Welton

One of the hardest aspects of replanting is cleaning up the mistakes other people made. It’s not like the mistakes a toddler makes during afternoon playtime. Those are frustrating – and perplexing how a couple of kids who can barely walk, in a matter of minutes, can do as much damage as a small tornado! But a child’s mess is cleaned up in short order. It is an inconvenience, but then you move on.

In replanting, the mistakes often are repeated and become deeply ingrained. That means they require the reforming of habits, and that takes much time.

I didn’t realize how hard it would be to reshape a church and get it moving in the right direction. When I first arrived, we made a few tweaks, updated the website and logo, created a new vision statement and had the “Launch Kickoff Party.” People started coming!

But then the past of the church sprang up and suffocated everything. I was immersed in organizational confusion, apathy of members and leaders, confusion on small groups, outdated buildings (paint and shag carpet) and dealing with problem after problem that kept us from reaching the lost and new people. It was hard being asked why the church wasn’t growing. It was hard watching other churches take off while we remained stagnant. I was spending so much time trying to fix things I hadn’t broken.

That is why one day, when the constricting problems of the past tightened upon me, I muttered the words, “I’m done! I’m tired of cleaning up other people’s messes.”

I had reached a boiling point, but it was at that moment the Lord also convicted me of my error – my sin of not wanting to be like Jesus. In that moment He opened my eyes to see that Jesus came to clean up other people’s messes! He came to clean up problems He didn’t cause. He died because of the mess humans had made. Even more he continued patiently with people who were a mess and whose work often made things worse!

This was when I realized that all ministry is cleaning up other people’s messes. I wanted to minister to people, but I wanted to see them grow and respond in the ways and time frame that fit my schedule. Jesus had a different plan. He showed His love by laying down His life (1 John 3:16). Jesus denied himself and laid down his life (Mark 9:45), washed the feet of his disciples (John 13:1-20), waited patiently when they didn’t understand (John 10:6, 12:16, 20:9) – and so much more.

This realization normalized some of what I was going through and gave me hope for the future. It wasn’t just the church that needed work, it was my own heart as well. If Jesus was faithful to deal patiently with me, then I could certainly do it for others. Ministry is an opportunity an opportunity to become like Jesus – to die to yourself and love others. If replanting was giving me a double-dose opportunity, then I was fully on board for whatever laid ahead!

And let me also say this: Within a few years of replanting, you most certainly will be cleaning up messes you made! It will happen soon enough. So, while you are frustrated at the mess of others, just know your shortcomings also will be felt. And when you have learned your lessons, you will be better prepared to help your staff and church clean up messes they didn’t make – your messes!

Published August 3, 2023

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