Thoughts On Closing A Church, Part 2

Posted on January 12, 2012


I found you, Pastor Swagger!

One of the side effects of the past three years of my life, and especially the closing of the church, is that I have lost my mojo.  Yes, believe it or not, pastors have mojo, and/or swagger.  We usually spiritualize it to some degree and call it “anointing” or “gifting”, but in essence, it is that confidence that a pastor has in their skills and abilities that allows them to minister more effectively, and inspire others to greater faith.  I used to have quite a bit of that swagger a few years ago, finding confidence in my abilities as a preacher, musician, and leader, enough to inspire me to start my own church, and even convince others to join me as well.

I have tried to use those skills to their very utmost, paired with hard work and a lot of prayer, and yet here I am, trying to graciously guide our church into its final week.  So you can understand why I have far less confidence in those particular skills any longer.

I also realize this acutely as I look at the various job descriptions for pastor positions, and the list of expectations that candidates are expected to meet.  I see often that the pastor will be expected to help the congregation achieve the next level of growth and maturity, and I know that is much more difficult than it sounds, and doubt that I can accomplish such a feat.  One listing stressed the need for organizational and logistical skills, stating that a corporate background in managing was highly suggested, an MBA preferred.  I couldn’t even keep together a church of 40 people – how in the world would I be able to manage a church double, or triple, in size?  Another church said that they were looking for an “ideater”, or someone to help cast a compelling vision for the church.  I didn’t even know that “ideater” was a word, and I’m quite sure I don’t know how to “ideate”, or whatever the verb form of that word might be.

Regardless of whether I can or cannot accomplish these expectations, I don’t feel like I can.  And often, if you don’t feel like you can do something…you’re right, because a lack of confidence creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.  This is a disheartening realization, especially when you are on the job hunt, and are supposed to be projecting an image of someone with supreme self-assurance, confident in their ability to get things done.  Instead, the struggles that I and our church experienced has made me inadequate and doubtful of my finer abilities as a pastor, the finer abilities that it seems that churches want.

But at the same time, I have come to realize that although I have lost my confidence in my abilities, I have not lost confidence altogether.

It’s true, I have serious doubts about my skills as a motivator, manager, ideater and community organizer.  But through the trials of the past three years, I have become a deep believer in the gospel, and have enormous confidence in its abilities.  And the reason I have such confidence in the gospel is that I’ve seen what it can do.  The gospel gave me hope, perspective and strength during hellishly dark days.  I’ve seen it even at our small, struggling church – people coming to faith for the first time, or after years of turning away from God; other people being encouraged and challenged, leaving behind a life of nominal Christianity, and taking up the cross instead.  And I believe that these fruits came to be not through my skills as a pastor, but through the gospel, that message that God loves us and has made a way for us.  If my God-given skills and abilities had anything to do with it, it was only because they were tethered to that Story, and channeled through its power, and nothing more.

And so if you give me a chance to explain the gospel to people, I will do so clearly and passionately, using every ounce of intellect and conviction and anointing that I have.  And I will do it again and again, week after week, from the pulpit, through email, or at a coffee table.  I don’t care if I have to do it in front of a few or many, to the young or the old, to a person of any race.  And I don’t need mojo to pull these things off, because I have the gospel – the gospel has become my swagger.  Whatever confidence I have lost in myself and my abilities, I seem to have gained in the gospel and its abilities instead.

Now this might seem like a silver lining of sorts, a type of “Oh, at least he is gleaning something positive out of all of this!”  And because of this, now I (and you) can feel somewhat better about my terrible situation.  But frankly, I don’t see it that way.  This is all positive, and exactly the process through which all ministers are supposed to travel.  This is what Paul teaches us in the book of Philippians:

If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.

 7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

You see here that Paul has the most impressive of resumes, and every reason to be supremely self-confident – he has the right background, the right education, the right skills.  But he calls all of these things a “loss”, and “rubbish”, compared to knowing Christ.  And the word that he uses there for “rubbish” is actually much more graphic in the Greek – it is actually the word for human excrement…or “sh*t”, if you will pardon my Greek.  So we were never supposed to find our confidence and self-assurance in our abilities, even if we acknowledge them as God-given.  Instead, our confidence is in Christ and His abilities alone.  And so this place that I find myself, stripped of confidence in myself and my skills, is not a curse, but exactly where I should have been all along.

You see, I haven’t found the silver lining to a failed ministry – I have discovered the heart of all ministry.  No longer do I strive to be a multi-faceted pastor who is self-assured and charismatic and able to get things done.  I want to be a one-trick pony, that pony being living and preaching the gospel in any and every way that I can.  I don’t feel that this makes me less effective as a pastor, but more, because I have been simplified, honed and sharpened – any fancy gilded edges have been smoothed over and given true purpose and direction.  I may have little confidence in my ability to lead or change or transform, but that is perfectly okay because it is ultimately Christ who accomplishes such things, and I just have to make him known to the best of my ability.

So I’m not done doing ministry – I feel like I am just getting started.

But this has also given me some pause as I look for new work.  I have yet to read a job listing that made any reference to “passion for Christ and for the gospel” anywhere in its description.  Of course, I realize the need of churches to be practical in their expectations for their pastor, and I’m sure that most of these churches just assume that every pastor has such a passion (which is not the wisest assumption to make).  But maybe this betrays something altogether more dangerous, that churches and the Christians who make them up follow more of a corporate model than an apostolic one.  What does it say about us and our understanding of “ministry” that the first and only stated expectations of leaders are duties that they must fulfill?  What does it say when job descriptions for pastors look exactly like job descriptions for company managers, or CEO’s?  If we expect such things from our leaders, won’t we in turn expect the same from ourselves?  Perhaps I am reading too much into it, but I have a feeling that more than a few of us have seen such a dynamic take hold at our churches, and need to soberly reconsider if that is really what God wants from us.

As for me, I am looking for a job description that says something along these lines: “Must consider all things a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus.”  That is the only job description that I am qualified for, and am interested in.

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13 Responses “Thoughts On Closing A Church, Part 2” →
  1. PP, great post as always. After you post, Tom and I always talk about what a great writer you are. Though you’ve lost your “pastor swagger,” please let me affirm you on something I noticed when I saw you a few weeks ago. I noticed that, even in the midst of all of this church closing and job seeking, you seem infinitely more joyful than I’ve ever seen you. It was so encouraging to me. And I’d take that in a pastor over pastor swagger any day.


    • peterwchin

      January 12, 2012

      thanks so, so much tina. and you know what, i’ve noticed the exact same thing. it’s so strange that my situation has gotten so much harder from three years ago, but my joy has increased! it could also be the fact that we were seeing some very dear friends for the first time in years…


    • sara choe

      January 12, 2012

      worrrrrdddd.

  2. Now yur talking! errr. actually, it’s the Gospel talking! So awesome! 🙂 A wholehearted, smile producing, AMEN!!!!

    Though not on the same scale, I learned similar things leading XR over the last 8 years. The joy and power really came when I let God and the Gospel do the work! As you can tell by the “!”‘s. So exicited by reading your post… because when the Good News really is good news (our swagger), it’s always awesome to share/recieve. The Gospel is so much more than just our salvation story.

    My mentor always told me: If your “Gospel” doesn’t motivate you, then your version [personal understanding/feelings toward] of the Gospel sucks.

    I am coming to find more stories/studies that compare the biblical church to the modern church. It seems that the modern church is delegating “being the church” to hired professionals (pastors), instead of being the church themselves. Congregants aren’t supposed to be supporting the Pastor’s ministry, the Pastor is supposed to be supporting the congregants ministry. Sigh…Not sure how that can change… but in the meantime, praying for your next job oppurtunity that you can find a place to preach the Gospel and watch it work!

    Seriously, I think that I can smile/be joyful all day from your post/testimony. 😀

    (You don’t have to make this public in case it seems too “bright” and smiley. ).


    • peterwchin

      January 12, 2012

      yeah right, i don’t have to make this comment public. this blog could use some bright and smiley! and that is definitely what i was trying to convey in the post, that i don’t feel bad right now. i feel…sharp.

  3. Peter, Jim here. Having read this I need to read part one. Thank you for your ministry in DC and ministry to come.
    with infinite hope, Jim


    • peterwchin

      January 12, 2012

      jim, good to hear from you! i hope you and cathy are doing well – will you be at midwinter this year?


  4. Sung Kim

    January 13, 2012

    PP, this post is amazing cuz the way you wrote it or should i say “the way it was written”. i wanted to respond by telling the people what i got out of it.
    first of all, the words “pastor swagger” is used in such a perfect way. swagger is like the highest form of “self”-confidence – which then is also a synonym to arrogance. this goes in line with exactly what Apostle Paul was talking about in Philippians. it’s only right for you to lose the “swagger” to gain gospel!
    you also mentioned how you couldn’t keep a church with 40 people. ask any farmers and they will tell you that seeding 40 plants and upkeeping them on a soil not so great are 100x harder than upkeeping 120 that are already prospering on a better, fertile soil.
    now, putting these two points together and combining everything to the first post, I just want to say that God must have a big plan for you. before the big plan is to go into action, i’m thinking that God wanted to see how brave you are and how faithful you are. Despite all the trials and tribulations, you smile and you stay strong! this is something very amazing for somebody normal like me to see. thank you for sharing your life thru the gospel with us. we are blessed because we have a person like you to share the God’s Word to us.
    i had a nickname for you! and if you “feel” that you don’t fit, then i hope and pray that you grow into it – Gospel Whisperer. i know it sound tacky, but as i think about it, you seem to communicate to me in that kind of manner; sincere, direct, and last but not least, putting back a seed of Life to a person that has lost it and trying to get it back. thanks again!


    • peterwchin

      January 13, 2012

      GOSPEL WHISPERER!! i’ll take that, especially from you! i think i’m going to get a diamond encrusted necklace that says that now…

  5. Peter,

    Your two posts were amazing! Your love for the gospel is incredible! I’m humbled by your faith and willingness to share your feelings.

    My daughter and I were in DC one weekend in December and visited your church. I met a group of incredibly warm and friendly people and truly felt welcome. Your church was full of life and God’s love. It was alive!

    Of few of my thoughts are below:

    > I couldn’t even keep together a church of 40 people – how in the world would I be able to manage a church double, or triple, in size?

    God and you created a church of 40 people in central DC. The Covenant has no churches in central DC. You went into a tough area where there was nothing and started something great. Does the size of a church really matter? I don’t think so. There are plenty of large, dead churches. I’d take your “small” living church any day. You created and ran a small church while going through really tough times, you can easily handle a much, much larger one.

    > I have yet to read a job listing that made any reference to “passion for Christ and for the gospel” anywhere in its description.

    That is sad. I’d rather not be at a church that sets a higher importance on an MBA and corporate experience. It seems to me that love for Christ should be a top priority. If not, hmmm, maybe you are better off somewhere else!

    > Instead, the struggles that I and our church experienced has made me inadequate and doubtful of my finer abilities as a pastor, the finer abilities that it seems that churches want.

    I’m was impressed with your church and your abilities to be positive. You are not inadequate! You’ve done a great job.


    • peterwchin

      February 1, 2012

      wow…thanks so much steve. so much of our story was so difficult, i guess i honestly wondered if we were doing any good at all. it is an incredible encouragement to hear that God used our church to do His good work. thanks so much.

  6. I don’t know you, and I only found this blog via your article about Jeremy Lin.

    Having said that, I thought this post was really terrific. God bless you and your family during this season and all throughout your lives.

Thoughts On Closing A Church, Part 2

Posted on January 12, 2012


I found you, Pastor Swagger!

One of the side effects of the past three years of my life, and especially the closing of the church, is that I have lost my mojo.  Yes, believe it or not, pastors have mojo, and/or swagger.  We usually spiritualize it to some degree and call it “anointing” or “gifting”, but in essence, it is that confidence that a pastor has in their skills and abilities that allows them to minister more effectively, and inspire others to greater faith.  I used to have quite a bit of that swagger a few years ago, finding confidence in my abilities as a preacher, musician, and leader, enough to inspire me to start my own church, and even convince others to join me as well.

I have tried to use those skills to their very utmost, paired with hard work and a lot of prayer, and yet here I am, trying to graciously guide our church into its final week.  So you can understand why I have far less confidence in those particular skills any longer.
Read On…

13 Responses “Thoughts On Closing A Church, Part 2” →
  1. PP, great post as always. After you post, Tom and I always talk about what a great writer you are. Though you’ve lost your “pastor swagger,” please let me affirm you on something I noticed when I saw you a few weeks ago. I noticed that, even in the midst of all of this church closing and job seeking, you seem infinitely more joyful than I’ve ever seen you. It was so encouraging to me. And I’d take that in a pastor over pastor swagger any day.


    • peterwchin

      January 12, 2012

      thanks so, so much tina. and you know what, i’ve noticed the exact same thing. it’s so strange that my situation has gotten so much harder from three years ago, but my joy has increased! it could also be the fact that we were seeing some very dear friends for the first time in years…


    • sara choe

      January 12, 2012

      worrrrrdddd.

  2. Now yur talking! errr. actually, it’s the Gospel talking! So awesome! 🙂 A wholehearted, smile producing, AMEN!!!!

    Though not on the same scale, I learned similar things leading XR over the last 8 years. The joy and power really came when I let God and the Gospel do the work! As you can tell by the “!”‘s. So exicited by reading your post… because when the Good News really is good news (our swagger), it’s always awesome to share/recieve. The Gospel is so much more than just our salvation story.

    My mentor always told me: If your “Gospel” doesn’t motivate you, then your version [personal understanding/feelings toward] of the Gospel sucks.

    I am coming to find more stories/studies that compare the biblical church to the modern church. It seems that the modern church is delegating “being the church” to hired professionals (pastors), instead of being the church themselves. Congregants aren’t supposed to be supporting the Pastor’s ministry, the Pastor is supposed to be supporting the congregants ministry. Sigh…Not sure how that can change… but in the meantime, praying for your next job oppurtunity that you can find a place to preach the Gospel and watch it work!

    Seriously, I think that I can smile/be joyful all day from your post/testimony. 😀

    (You don’t have to make this public in case it seems too “bright” and smiley. ).


    • peterwchin

      January 12, 2012

      yeah right, i don’t have to make this comment public. this blog could use some bright and smiley! and that is definitely what i was trying to convey in the post, that i don’t feel bad right now. i feel…sharp.

  3. Peter, Jim here. Having read this I need to read part one. Thank you for your ministry in DC and ministry to come.
    with infinite hope, Jim


    • peterwchin

      January 12, 2012

      jim, good to hear from you! i hope you and cathy are doing well – will you be at midwinter this year?


  4. Sung Kim

    January 13, 2012

    PP, this post is amazing cuz the way you wrote it or should i say “the way it was written”. i wanted to respond by telling the people what i got out of it.
    first of all, the words “pastor swagger” is used in such a perfect way. swagger is like the highest form of “self”-confidence – which then is also a synonym to arrogance. this goes in line with exactly what Apostle Paul was talking about in Philippians. it’s only right for you to lose the “swagger” to gain gospel!
    you also mentioned how you couldn’t keep a church with 40 people. ask any farmers and they will tell you that seeding 40 plants and upkeeping them on a soil not so great are 100x harder than upkeeping 120 that are already prospering on a better, fertile soil.
    now, putting these two points together and combining everything to the first post, I just want to say that God must have a big plan for you. before the big plan is to go into action, i’m thinking that God wanted to see how brave you are and how faithful you are. Despite all the trials and tribulations, you smile and you stay strong! this is something very amazing for somebody normal like me to see. thank you for sharing your life thru the gospel with us. we are blessed because we have a person like you to share the God’s Word to us.
    i had a nickname for you! and if you “feel” that you don’t fit, then i hope and pray that you grow into it – Gospel Whisperer. i know it sound tacky, but as i think about it, you seem to communicate to me in that kind of manner; sincere, direct, and last but not least, putting back a seed of Life to a person that has lost it and trying to get it back. thanks again!


    • peterwchin

      January 13, 2012

      GOSPEL WHISPERER!! i’ll take that, especially from you! i think i’m going to get a diamond encrusted necklace that says that now…

  5. Peter,

    Your two posts were amazing! Your love for the gospel is incredible! I’m humbled by your faith and willingness to share your feelings.

    My daughter and I were in DC one weekend in December and visited your church. I met a group of incredibly warm and friendly people and truly felt welcome. Your church was full of life and God’s love. It was alive!

    Of few of my thoughts are below:

    > I couldn’t even keep together a church of 40 people – how in the world would I be able to manage a church double, or triple, in size?

    God and you created a church of 40 people in central DC. The Covenant has no churches in central DC. You went into a tough area where there was nothing and started something great. Does the size of a church really matter? I don’t think so. There are plenty of large, dead churches. I’d take your “small” living church any day. You created and ran a small church while going through really tough times, you can easily handle a much, much larger one.

    > I have yet to read a job listing that made any reference to “passion for Christ and for the gospel” anywhere in its description.

    That is sad. I’d rather not be at a church that sets a higher importance on an MBA and corporate experience. It seems to me that love for Christ should be a top priority. If not, hmmm, maybe you are better off somewhere else!

    > Instead, the struggles that I and our church experienced has made me inadequate and doubtful of my finer abilities as a pastor, the finer abilities that it seems that churches want.

    I’m was impressed with your church and your abilities to be positive. You are not inadequate! You’ve done a great job.


    • peterwchin

      February 1, 2012

      wow…thanks so much steve. so much of our story was so difficult, i guess i honestly wondered if we were doing any good at all. it is an incredible encouragement to hear that God used our church to do His good work. thanks so much.

  6. I don’t know you, and I only found this blog via your article about Jeremy Lin.

    Having said that, I thought this post was really terrific. God bless you and your family during this season and all throughout your lives.

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