Thanking God or Wishing I Had

By John Mattingly

The Mississippi River spilled over its banks in what we still remember as “The Great Flood of 1993.” During that time, our growing replanted church was serving people who had lost everything due to months of ever-rising waters. We realized that what we did — or did not do — then would define the church’s ministry in years come. I am not much of a poetry man, but during this time I came across a poem by Shel Silverstein that impressed me deeply.


All the Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas
Layin’ in the sun,
Talkin’ ’bout the things
They woulda coulda shoulda done…
But those Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas
All ran away and hid
From one little Did.

I have heard it said that “hindsight is 20/20” and obviously retrospect can give a person a wider view of the effects of what was done and what was not done. However, it is never helpful to live today in the Woulda, Shoulda, Coulda perspective.

In nearly 40 years of ministry, mostly in replanting or revitalizing of churches, I can think of things I did that invoke a one-line, self-judgment — either “Thank God, I did” or “I wish to God I had.”

The calling of a man to be a pastor is a high honor, if not the greatest in God’s kingdom. He is the man God has called to bring truth in times of uncertainty. We help congregants realize that, in light of eternity, this current trouble is just for a moment.

Every trouble that affects our congregation and community in a large way, gives the replanting pastor and the church an unprecedented opportunity to exalt God and His glory. (2 Cor. 4:18)

Ministering to your congregation during these times will be pressing, all encompassing and time consuming, and the replanter must resist the temptation to be “all things to all people.”

A replanter does not have an “S” under his shirt so he must, during times of major disruptions, focus on a few “dids” as the poem alludes to, in which he can say, “Thank God, I did.” If he doesn’t, when the disturbance is over — and it will pass — he will find himself saying, “I wish to God I had.”

The following few “dids” should be prioritized:

1. Did I Spend Additional Time in God’s Word?

Crisis can quickly become very personal. Trying times demand a prepared minister who has readied himself to help his people keep their eyes on the truth. Administering God’s Word to the personal, corporate or community contexts is imperative. Believe me when I say, it is times like this that a replant pastor can build credibility by wrapping every good deed with the Word of God!

No matter the circumstances, God’s Word is the only thing that will make a lasting impact on lives under his care. Long after the crisis has passed, it will be the comfort, wisdom or direction received from God that will have a lasting impact for years to come. (Matt. 24:35)

2. Did I Give Myself to My Family?

In times of unrest, including the present pandemic, your schedule and ministry will be tested, and making good boundaries will need to be established for ministry, marriage and family.

It was the context of “current distresses” that Paul said, that all men should be like he was, single (1 Cor. 7:26). He understood the strain of keeping his home happy and ministering during troubles. However, as I look back over my ministry, it was in being married that I found strength to face each day’s challenges. I’m glad to say, “Thank God, I did.” Love, harmony and serenity at home will translate big-time in how you deal with everyday demands. The servant of God needs to review and plan every day how he will care for his family.

Resource: The Pastor’s Family by Brian and Cara Croft

3. Did I Delegate Responsibilities

A large number of replanters I have met around the country are more of the “doer” type and not so secure in the supervisory role.

As a replant pastor in a small church, I was the man to call for everything, and I got in the rut of doing and forgot that my primary service is overseeing — making sure that the work of the kingdom gets done rightly. It was my father who set me straight by emphasizing that “there are people in the church who can do that!” I can testify that people are willing to serve if given good directions and supervision, empowering the congregation to step up and step out. Remember a crisis can give you the urgency to get the congregation serving each other, leaving you to focus on your primary role as overseer.


When this pandemic is over, you will want to be able to say “Thank God, I did,” not looking back and saying “I wish to God I had.”

Published September 15, 2020

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John Mattingly

John Mattingly is the Replant Specialist for the Western States. John has thirty eight years of experience in replanting and revitalization of churches and is currently leading a church in revitalization in Laramie, WY. He has also served a number of years as Directior of Missions in NW Illinois and as church planting catylist, CPC, in that same region of Illinois. John love for helping struggling churches is only surpassed by his love for his wife, Jacki, of 38 years.