As a church planter, I F’ed up

keepcalmfailup-small

Some time around the turn of the millenium to 2000 A.D., I discerned a call to take all of my past experience, my present training/education and my future hopes to plant a different kind of church. I wasn’t ignorant of the fact that what I was attempting was not the first of its kind in the vast history and tradition of ekklesia, but it was anything but conventional or ordinary to the day.  In a turn of irony, it became known as Ordinary Community.

One of the pretenses was that we would not be owned by money, finances would not dictate our mission or sustenance.  We sought out to have no bills, no buildings, no salaries, no benefit packages, no insurances, no debt and no capital campaigns.  100% of our shared giving together would go back out to missional needs.  Central to this as the church planter meant that I had to fire myself from professional vocational ministry.  From that day on, I would have to figure out how to support my family with work outside of my role with the church community.  13 years ago as I forecasted what this would look like, I took a step of faith and believed that God would work out the details and I would eventually find work to sustain myself, my family and the community I felt called to.  I am not the only one who attempted this, but after 13 years of trying, I’m finally ready to call this part of the vision project an abject failure.  It hasn’t worked.  I have bounced around quite a bit, I have tried and tried and yearned for a different result, only to end in similar spaces and experiences.  It’s been disillusioning.

On one hand, I fret to complain because God has provided some form of work and gainful employment to cover my bills and support my family for which I am incredibly grateful.  But on the other hand, it has been my largest personal struggle for more than a decade and has exposed many dark nights of the soul.  I have never found a transition from the areas I have natural gifts and skill sets in to a sustainable professional role in the greater culture outside of vocational ministry.  The experiment has left me at the ripe age of 40, utterly exhausted.  If I could put words on what this has felt like for 13 years, I would use words like: exiled, lost, lonely, confused, dismayed and broken.  When I started out, I just hoped things would work out, it hasn’t.

So, as a church planter, I F’ed up.  But what I mean is that somehow amidst my personal turmoil, I ‘failed’ up.  Ordinary Community is more beautiful and hopeful an expression of church than I dreamed of.  Despite what I intended it to look like, it became something better, something far beyond my mind’s eye.  Still to this day some 13 years later, I still get the sense that we are just beginning.  We are just entering early adolescence in our development and learning our strengths amidst our awkward growth and hormones.  There is hopeful energy for deeper pushes into creative ways to love our neighbors, serve the poverties around us and be generous with our resources.  The life of the Kingdom flows freely and powerfully through our community times, we are strengthened by the day.

So as I am at a reflecting point in my life, I’m re-learning a very valuable lesson I thought I already knew.  That is that God hates a visionary leader.  See Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s sentiments below:

God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretensions. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own laws, and judges that brethren and God Himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself. 

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together 

This is what I have become.  An accuser of my broken vision so many years ago.  How sick is that?  It didn’t turn out as I intended . . . thank God.  The counselor in me says to not move too quickly through the waters of recognized failure, to sit in them and soak them up for the learning opportunities that they are.  I’ve heard it said that we should see our attempts for God to be more like a garden.  That every failed attempt becomes rich compost for the next planting, nothing is fatal, it can all be re-used.  So at this stage in my journey, admitting that I F’ed up, I am sitting in some fresh manure for perhaps another chapter of this story.  I’m waiting for another planting.

Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn #adiscipline

 

 

You were cold as the blood through your bones
And the light which led us from our chosen homes
Well I was lost

And now I sleep
Sleep the hours and that I can’t weep
When all I knew was steeped in blackened holes
I was lost

Keep the earth below my feet
For all my sweat, my blood runs weak
Let me learn from where I have been
Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn
Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn

And I was still
I was under your spell
When I was told by Jesus all was well
So all must be well

Just give me time
You know your desires and mine
So wrap my flesh in ivy and in twine
For I must be well

Keep the earth below my feet
For all my sweat, my blood runs weak
Let me learn from where I have been
Oh keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn
Oh keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn

Keep the earth below my feet
For all my sweat, my blood runs weak
Let me learn from where I have been
Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn
Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn

-Mumford and Sons

Because life is about learning and serving, not consuming.  Peace to your service in this world.

Broken

There will always be a part of me that is dirty and sloppy, but I like that, just like all the other parts of myself. I can forgive. Can you say the same for yourself, —-? Can you forgive? Are you capable of that? -Silver Linings Playbook
broken

Past participle of break.

adj.

1. Forcibly separated into two or more pieces; fractured
2. Sundered by divorce, separation, or desertion of a parent or parents: children from broken homes; a broken marriage.
3. Having been violated: a broken promise.
4.Incomplete: Being in a state of disarray; disordered
5.Intermittently stopping and starting; discontinuous
b. Varying abruptly, as in pitch: broken sobs.

c. Spoken with gaps and errors: broken English.
6. Topographically rough; uneven: broken terrain.
7.Subdued totally; humbled: Weakened and infirm
8. Crushed by grief: died of a broken heart.
9. Financially ruined; bankrupt.
10. Not functioning; out of order
We live in a culture of the rugged individual; the strong are those who can island their emotions and carry on without the tatters and tears of past storms.  Re-paint the facade, mend the sails, carry on like the strong sailor you are.  But yet broken is what describes the waters around you, broken is what describes the waters within you.  The world does not work the way it should, disharmony with the goodness of created intention is not at all rare.  We live in and around brokenness yet we white-wash our walls to make sure others can’t see the cracks.
I watched “Silver Linings Playbook” tonight and without being a spoiler alert, it is about 2 crazy (broken) individuals who put it all ‘out’ there and find the silver lining in one another ‘out’ there that most of us are looking for within the conventional.  I was disturbed, I was stirred up, I was intrigued.  I think I was getting in touch with the crazy/broken in me.  I’d recommend you do the same, it’s pretty good therapy.
Even while staring the brokenness in the face, can you still believe in a happy ending, can you find the silver lining?
Life is not a PG feel-good movie. Real life often ends badly. Literature tries to document this reality, while showing us it is still possible for us to endure nobly.
-Silver Linings Playbook

All the Poor and Powerless

Had a great conversation with a friend and fellow sojourner tonight about this really big question that I’ve been pondering for some 22 years or so now, that is ‘what is church’?  The sub questions are: Is it a weekly event?  Is it a place?  Is it public space?  Is it private space?  Is it a personal experience?  Is it a political affiliation?  Is it comfortable? Is it pleasing? Is it tethered to something historical? Is it relevant? Is it therapeutic? Is it justice oriented? Is it biblical? Is it . . .?  Is it . . . ?  Is it . . . ?

If you have been one of my students, you have had to deal with one of my mantras which is ‘church is not someplace you go, it’s a people you belong to.’  In my years of asking this question, that’s been one of my conclusions for many reasons.  But I would go further now and say more conclusively I think is that church is something you ‘opt in out of a place of need’.  Kind of like an AA meeting.  Your place of being poor and powerless finds resonance in others who find themselves in a place of being in need and as a people you seek the source of your being, that is the Creator.  That Creator is ‘holy’, by definition he is ‘other’.  To pursue something or someone ‘other’ is not a controlled strategy, it is the end of your self.

I’m not really interested in being comfortable, entertained or relevant.  I can get that at the local theater complex.  I need church to be alternative to my cultural surroundings.  I need it to be tethered to something outside of the problems and trappings of my day but yet immersed in the passion to bring healing to the brokenness around me.  I need church to be ‘in’ and yet not ‘of’ this world.

What is church?  . . . it is for the poor and powerless.  Welcome.

You don’t have a right to exist

horselesscarriage

Interesting article here on iconic brands that have vanished in the past few years either due to mis-management, acquisition or other contextual factors.  They once were entrenched and moving along assuming their future’s existence and then through a series of factors they vanished into a memory of yester-year.  They highlight companies like Compaq, Saab and Cingular and also banking/lending companies that fell during the onset of the recession.

Are you a company, organization, school, church, business, leader, manager or investor that is actively thinking through it’s right to exist?  History says in all these areas that you don’t have a right to exist, factors change and if you don’t change with them there is not an assumption that you have to exist post-transition.  The world is cruel in that way, no assumptions can be made.  We are largely a product of the choices we are making today, so what choices are you making?  In the words of the wise sage, Yoda: Do or do not, there is no try.

If history sets us aside, the best we may be able to hope for a transition out of glory is by bringing some definition to the new paradigm.  The ‘horseless’ carriage could not compete with the wave that was about to come upon it’s shores, in what we now know as automobiles.  But for awhile, it existed and helped bring formation to the new paradigm by stating what it was in comparison to the old paradigm.  There were horses with carriages for hundreds of years but before we could fully move into the era of the automobile, we had the horseless carriage to help transition the way.  But unless those companies made choices to transition themselves, they were left behind with no right to exist.

Are you on the bottom looking up?  If so, don’t lose your hunger, transitions are happening in every sector, keep building on your contribution and as the big fish lose their footing, be ready to add your influence with clarity and power.  Are you on top?  You better look down, you don’t have a right to exist, there are others who will gladly supplant you if you get full of yourself and lose your contribution to your unique market.  Timing and circumstances we have little control over, but we are largely a result of the choices we are making today.  Are you building and growing on what you know and what you believe, or are you resting on your laurels in the kind of pride that precedes a fall?

A proper humility is the beginning of wisdom, I hope I’m listening to it’s gentle warning for the things I’m trying to influence.