How to deal with doubt, discouragement and disappointment.
Early in the morning Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’ ‘No,’ they answered. He said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish” (John 21:4-6).
I knew pioneering a church in Fresno, California, would be hard, and I was prepared for that.
We were an anomaly: a Hispanic church in the hood that was on fire for God. We were a church of grit, hustle and heart—all for the glory of God and His church. We weathered the storms. We handled the ups and downs.
To give you some context, it was seven to nine years into church planting, and we were crushing it. Adventure Church launched in 2011. By 2013, there was not one year in which we kept the same service times or dates. By 2018, we had 1,800 in attendance, and we hit 2,000 people for our 2019 Easter services.
Everything we touched turned to gold. Goliaths were falling everywhere, the Red Sea was parting, lions didn’t consume us, fires didn’t burn us and nothing could stop
us. We followed the word and threw our net on the other side, and there were fish!
But in 2020, it was not COVID-19 that almost took us out, but our journey to purchase the historic Tower Theater. The theater was a historic building in the Tower District in the heart of Fresno where we wanted to be the hands and feet of Jesus. It was also the center of the LGBTQ community, known for its nightlife and for its celebration of marijuana. We knew where God was calling us, and we were ready to take the next hill.
We were approached by the Tower’s owner to purchase the historic building. We signed a deal to purchase the theater in September 2020 and were set to close in February 2021.
That’s when all hell broke loose. First, the LGBTQ community started protesting Adventure. Then a media smear campaign happened. People were protesting us every Sunday for 80 consecutive weeks, from January 10, 2021, to July 17, 2022.
Adventure families were being harassed, cussed at, photographed, followed and bullied. Every week we had to be on the defensive and troubleshoot various situations all at once. Our church was getting tired, and our staff were even more tired.
If that weren’t enough, we were falsely connected to the Proud Boys, which caught the attention of the Los Angeles Times. The goal was to villainize us.
This also caught Hollywood’s attention when comedian Sarah Silverman used her social media account to accuse Adventure of being an anti-LGBT church and tagged fellow comedians Ellen DeGeneres and Chelsea Handler, encouraging them to purchase the Tower. Despite a variety of interviews trying to bring truth and clarity, the battle against us and the misinformation just intensified.
I haven’t even gotten to how the City of Fresno started to interfere in the real estate deal and the shady things that happened behind the scenes. Our family was doxed, and there was no accountability. We were told this was about zoning, but it was clearly an attack on religious freedom. We were told we were going to hurt the businesses in the Tower district, but since Day One we were serving our city and blessing it.
This is not an understatement: I was public enemy No. 1, and Adventure Church was mired in scrutiny.
The City of Fresno was successful in sabotaging our deal, and even though we were still in escrow, the city council voted to buy the theater, entered into a contract with the owner and closed in July 2022. We are now in a lawsuit with the City of Fresno due
to their interference with our deal to purchase the Tower.
That’s when it happened.
We were told by the city’s lawyers to get our money back from escrow. What our lawyer failed to tell us, which he knew was going to happen, is that taking our money out of escrow would nullify our lawsuit. In other words, we were tricked, and in a moment everything we had been working for so hard and fighting for was instantly over.
We hit Goliath, but he didn’t fall. We put the staff in the ground, and the water didn’t part. Instead, we almost drowned. We marched, and nothing fell. It felt like the story of Uriah in 2 Samuel 11, when his army retreated and he was left to be killed by the enemy. My girl was gone, and I was left for dead!
This was like a movie, a real-life scene out of Braveheart, when William Wallace is betrayed by Robert the Bruce. You could see the life leaving his body.
My soul was sucked out of me, my body in shock, my mental health barely hanging on and my family in bad shape.
We all want a storybook ending. We all want a hero for the story. We all love a winner, but here I was, a loser. It had all failed. All the prophetic words were just hanging there. We had lost half of our church’s attendance. It was devastating.
Around that time, I started reading the book The Boy Crisis by Warren Farrell, and there was a portion about making amends with “your father’s wounds.” I read this book with one objective: to apply at least one principle from the book to my personal life. I told myself, If this is it, at least I owe it to myself to make things right with my earthly father and make amends.
So, I went to go see my dad in Omaha, Nebraska, to make things right, just in case I did it—you know, “it.” Arriving in Nebraska, the help I needed came from an unexpected place. There’s no other way to explain other than to say I experienced deep healing from God there. I received a new sense of resolve and vision. I started to see that the first two options I considered to “get me out of ministry” were actually bait from the enemy.
God did a deep work in me and gave me a word: “Even though you feel lonely, you are never alone!” I came home to California beat up but not broken!
He also told me, “They meant to bury you, but they didn’t realize you’re a seed, and you will multiply!”
So, with that word (we were kicked out of the Tower Theater and back to our Palm campus), we quickly opened our second church location. It’s doing better than expected.
Now we are in the process of setting up our third location!
So here is my advice for any dealing with doubt, discouragement and disappointment:
Don’t do “it.” Get help! It’s not worth it. One of the most beneficial things I did was get my physical health in order. I cut out all the junk food. Getting myself physically healthy benefited me physically, but it also impacted me mentally more than anything else. Also, I got counseling and reached out to friends. I allowed trusted people to surround me, and I gave them permission to have the hard conversations. Bring the right people near you.
Get a word. Seek God! Go back to the last word God spoke to you. Pursue what He is speaking to you today! You need a fresh word from the Lord. Believe it or not, I never stopped reading and journaling. That was a steady drip in my life that I drew from when I needed it.
Go and throw the net on the other side. There’s no way around it. You have to step out again and dream. Allow God to expand you and what He’s entrusted you with.
If there’s one thing I live and stand by, it’s this: If you have nothing left but God, you have more than enough to start over again. Don’t be afraid to try again. Throw the net on the other side; there is a miracle catch waiting!
is the founding and senior pastor of Adventure Church, a multicultural, multisite church based in Fresno, California. Pastor Anthony started the church, along with his wife, Mandy, in 2011, with a heart to reach those who are far from God. Since then, the church has grown from a handful of people around a kitchen table, to reaching more than 1,000 people every week. Pastor Anthony has a passion for coaching and training leaders and pastors, as well as discipling his own congregation from all walks of life.