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.