Here at Mockingbird we pride ourselves on being Theologians of the Cross. That is to say, we believe that God works, most often and most powerfully, through weakness and defeat, rather than in strength and victory. As Paul writes, recounting God’s answer to him in the midst of suffering:

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Co 12.9&10)

Theologians of the Cross take great comfort in the thought that, when they are suffering, encountering difficulties of every kind, it is not a sign of God’s abandonment or displeasure, but is, in fact, a mark of His presence and work in our lives.

Of course, the problem is, none of us actually believes this, and I speak for myself first and foremost. None of us actually “delights” in our pains, as does Paul. None of us enjoys failure, or takes it as a sign of God’s favor. As Gerhard Forde has written, we are inveterate Theologians of Glory, who always take success to be a mark of God’s blessing and failure a sign of His curse. This is just as (perhaps more) true in the “Christian” world as it is in the “secular.”

For the past two-and-a-half years, my wife and I have been planting a church in New York City. It has not been without its joys, but it has not been easy. Perhaps most difficult has been the insistence of many voices around us, both within and without, that success is a matter of finding the right “strategy” or “improving our skill set”, maintaining a “positive attitude”, “projecting an image of success”, “creating and capitalizing on momentum” and on and on… This is Glory language, plain and simple.

At the same time, when we have listened and talked to actual church planters, we have encountered much different stories: uncertainty, fear, failure, anxiety, depression. And yet, in and through it all, God graciously, unexpectedly, miraculously at work. I have taken to saying that for every church planter there are two stories: the fundraising pitch (Glory) and what really happened, which is invariably a tale of God’s grace and power in the midst of our weakness (Cross). 

Of course, this is the story not just of church planting or ministry, but all of life. When we encounter difficulties (which is often!), our gut reaction is to fight them, to run away, to deny, to receive them as judgment. This is the way of the world, but it is not what Paul talks about. We are weak but He is strong. He is always at work, not just in our successes but also in our failures. His grace is all we have and all we need in the midst of life’s up and downs.

The above article is an excerpt of the talk given at the 2011 Mockingbird Conference in New York City. The full audio is here: