SOS Geoff Surratt

Geoff Surratt is a freelance Church Catalyst and Encourager with almost 30 years in vocational ministry.

The call came on a Monday morning; I had been selected as the new pastor of Church on the Lake.  The vote was nine for, one against and one abstention. After 10 years in vocational ministry I was now embarking on my first journey as a “Senior Pastor” (I was also the youth pastor, Sunday School Director, Janitor and Maintenance Guy.) I had a dream of turning this aging, rural congregation of 13 (soon to be 12) adults into the next Texas mega-church.

For the next 2 ½ years I poured everything I had into this little church. We exchanged hymn books for worship songs, my preaching morphed from Hybels to Warren to Stanley, we remodeled and repaired and refurbished every inch of the worn out old building. The auditorium was the old shotgun style with a single aisle between two sets of pews, so I made everyone sit on the same side of the auditorium until it we could fill it up. The Sunday we had to open the other side was a big day; the vision I believed God had given me was beginning to unfold. People far from God were committing their lives to Christ, families were being transformed and more and more people were calling Church on the Lake home. I’ll never forget the Easter Sunday when 175 people showed up. We had to park cars in the grass and on the street, and people were crammed into every pew with more standing along the walls. This was everything we had worked and prayed for. And then it all began to unravel.

It started with a family who quit the church because the youth pastor drove a van on New Years Eve. And then the largest family decided to move home to Tennessee. Over the course of the next couple of weeks the three biggest giving families quit the church; our already stretched finances were now almost non-existent. The strain of pastoring was also taking a huge toll on my family. And the church stopped growing; we peaked at 100 people a weekend and now it looked like we might be headed the other direction. By the following Easter I was teaching middle school English and someone else was pastoring Church on the Lake.  In less than three years I had gone from the most exciting time in my life of ministry to believing that ministry for me was over.  And I knew that I was a failure.

After almost two years in the marketplace, I was offered the chance to go on staff at Seacoast Church in Charleston, SC. Over the next several years we saw the church grow from 1,000 to over 10,000 attenders and from one location to 13. In the 17 years since I left that little church in Texas feeling like a washed up failure, I’ve had the chance to publish three books, as well as work with Pastor Rick Warren overseeing Church Planting for Saddleback Church. I have learned that failure is seldom final and is never fatal.

So if you are feeling like a failure, remember your current reality is not your final destination. And your past performance doesn’t always predict your future results. God often uses failure to refine and humble us for the ultimate task he has prepared for us. When you are being sifted and feeling like a failure, remember that, like Moses tending sheep in the desert, your most productive ministry still lies ahead.

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