Church planters are rooted in the soil of optimism, calling and faith. If not, they wouldn’t endeavor to start a church in the first place. Planters can also be driven, focused and sometimes overly self-confident. These attributes can be helpful, but they can only take you so far.
About a year after I planted The Harvest UMC, I hit a wall. Although the real journey was just beginning, the future looked bleak; there were financial struggles, lack of people, and a recent legal notice to “cease and desist” using our name (formerly Sienna Harvest UMC). My optimism, calling, drive, and self-confidence were insufficient for the task and I felt the weight of it all pressing down. I could not do this. So, I decided to resign.
You might think the decision was rash but it was the turning point in my ministry at The Harvest and years later I still revisit the letter. It was actually more of a written prayer than a letter because I wrote it to God. I would like to share it with you:
Letter of Resignation
Pastor Jeff McDowell
Sienna Harvest United Methodist Church
I, Jeff McDowell resign from any pretense that I can build a church. I relinquish all control of Sienna Harvest UMC to God and confess that I cannot and should not be in control of the future of this congregation. I give over any façade of control and place all outcomes in God’s hands. I cannot make people come – I can only invite. I cannot connect people to God – I can only point the way. I cannot build a church – I can only love the people.
In faith, I understand that I have been called to serve the people of this church as their pastor. In doing so, I am called not only to deepen my relationship with God and live a God honoring life but to help others into the presence of God. I will not live a perfect life, but a life that continues to grow into the likeness of Jesus.
I do not expect that this journey will be easy and the paths straight and level. I expect the enemy to come against any effort to further God’s Kingdom. But I do expect God’s presence in the midst of struggle; I expect that each trial will bring forth good and I can experience peace and joy even within the storm. In the end, I place my trust in Jesus who has walked this path and knows this way. I do not know what the future holds, whether success or failure, sickness or health, safety or persecution. I know what I want to happen, but more than that, I wish to honor God regardless of the circumstances.
Therefore, from this day forward, I will not accept responsibility for things outside my control. I will not worry and strategize rather than pray. I will not seek to fix people but rather walk with them. In the end, whatever Sienna Harvest becomes will be what God has done through his people.
That resignation letter fundamentally changed my perspective on the church I was attempting to plant. It allowed me to relinquish my false narratives about what I could do; you are probably smarter and more faithful than I. However, if you ever get to that place in your ministry where you desperately want to give up, I suggest you resign.