Friday, July 13, 2007

Six Reasons Not to Quit

Long, but very good! Everybody who is trying to do new things to touch people's lives with the love of God should read this post! Joe B

6 Reasons Not to Quit
Posted Jul 12, 11:07 AM By Andrew Hamilton
June 2007
Andrew is the Director for Forge Western Australian. Andrew has spent 10 years in youth ministry, 2 years as a pastoral team leader and is now the team leader of Upstream Communities a missional community in the new Perth suburb of Brighton. He is responsible for oversight of all aspects of the Forge internship and intensive programs.

If you're anything like me then chances are you like to be successful at whatever you attempt. As well as that you probably like to be perceived as successful by your peers. Maybe it's a 'bloke thing'. Over the last few years however, I have increasingly been coming to grips with my life as a failure. We have now been in the same place for nearly 4 years and are yet to see one person sign up to follow Jesus. This was not at all what I hoped for or expected when we set out to begin our missionary venture in the northern suburbs of Perth. Even though I told people it would be a long term project and we would need to be patient I (secretly) still expected amazing results and in double quick time. As a youth pastor I had seen the youth ministry I was leading grow dramatically from 30 people to 250 in less than 2 years with many of those new Christians. For some reason I concluded that a) this was normal and could be replicated b) I was the key element in catalyzing this dramatic period of growth. I figured that if I could make it happen in one setting then surely I could do it again somewhere else… I have since come to see how arrogant and foolish that is. But in a world that praises the charismatic leader and puts the success or failure of a ministry (whatever those words may mean) down to the ability of the senior leader, it's a fairly reasonable conclusion to reach. Everything I had read about leadership told me I was 'the man' and that because of my gifting and charisma I could make it happen.

The truth is I can't.

Now depending on who you are and your own experience, you are either about to stop reading this story by a bloke who clearly has no clue as to what he's doing, or you may be saying 'thank goodness I'm not the only one who seems unable to make it happen' at will. As I speak in different places of our experience as a missionary team I am often embarrassed and occasionally even feel like a fraud. I sometimes wonder why people even invite me to speak when our own experience has been so difficult. We have not come close to achieving what we set out to accomplish and there are no guarantees that we ever will. We dreamt of seeing many people who don't know Jesus signing up as followers and of seeing many new faith communities birthed in our local area. We dreamt of an explosion of the gospel in our local area. As a person who is naturally achievement & results oriented the fact that we haven't seen this has been a great disappointment to me and a cause of much personal soul searching. So…why continue?...This is the question I often ask myself. If we are clearly not achieving the results we are hoping for, then aren't we better off 'shaking the dust off' and moving on to more fertile ground? You've heard that plenty of times… right?...Let me offer some reasons why those of us who are failures need to keep going in pioneering mission.

1. Someone needs to do this work—As I was talking with a friend of a larger local church recently he helped me understand some of what we are doing in a fresh light. As we drank coffee together he pointed to his cup and saucer and said "If the church is the cup then what most churches are doing is reaching the people in the saucer—the close by, the interested and open, the ones wanting to be convinced. They come along because they want to believe and we can help them in that." He went on, "It sounds like you and the Forge crew have said 'let's go to the people outside the saucer—the ones who may even sit somewhere on the extremities of the table'". It was a very helpful picture, and its one I often share when speaking with other first world missionaries who are seeking to connect with those who are not going to come to church programs. I believe our mission is a more difficult one because the people we go to are often not 'seeking' and may not even be interested initially in what we are about. Inevitably as we do this work it will take a significant period of time to see a shift in the orientation of the people we know. By and large my previous experience had not prepared me to patiently journey with people as they explore faith. If they didn't come thru quickly then I felt I needed to move on. What I am observing as we spend time with people is a definite openness to spirituality and even to discussing Jesus, but they are in no rush to sign up. So a significant question is: if we don't go to those people 'beyond the saucer' then who will?...

2. We are giving people hope—It's somewhat ironic that our struggle can offer hope, but my observation is that there are many people desperately seeking a different way of expressing their faith, of integrating with their community and living the gospel. A surprisingly large number are tired of the Sunday focus that has absorbed so much of Christendom and want to really engage in the world. I believe the journey we are on is one of learning and discovery, and we share what we are learning as we go. I sense that just knowing there are people out there 'having a go' can inspire others to also put their hand to the plough. Maybe we will never see any fruit for our labors, but will inspire a band of others to do better what we were attempting. I take hope from this.

3. Our definitions of success and failure are dodgy—surely not! So much has been written about this that I hesitate to simply regurgitate it. We speak often of faithfulness as the mark of success, yet quickly revert to counting bums on seats. I completely understand the desire for tangible results. It is deeply embedded in me from my long evangelical history, but it's this kind of pragmatism that at times actually prevents us from attempting anything new. If it doesn't 'work' then we get rid of it. There are many missionaries who have served in overseas cross cultural contexts who must be very glad that this pragmatism has not been applied to their endeavors. I know there are eyes watching all of us crazy missionary types wondering if we will actually make a difference or if we are just wasting our time. Before you quit make sure you take time to define success appropriately.

4. I need to grow—I don't know how many times people have said to me that maybe this isn't so much about what you do as what you learn in the process. Now honestly… I'd rather just learn this character formation stuff by reading a book! But it's true. There has been much shaping of my own identity in this journey and I am a richer person—perhaps even a more Christ like person for it. Is there something in God's scheme of things that I can't see? Maybe…

5. This stuff just takes a long time—I will admit that I have been completely taken by surprise by how long it takes to establish a presence in a suburb and to develop relationships where significant conversations can occur. I believe we have been at that place for a year or so with most of our friends, and while they are open to gospel conversations and have even met with us regularly to study the Bible they are adamant that they don't want to get involved with 'church'. The days of 2 barbecues and then the 'bridge to life' are long gone and we just need to get over it. This is going to take a while. We have also chosen to live at a very sustainable pace of life which means we are not going to run ourselves ragged in the name of growing a church. Nowadays when people ask me if I'm 'busy' the answer more often that not is 'no' and I hope to keep it that way. We have chosen to work less than full time and to make our time available to those in our community, but we can only travel at the pace people want to go at. In busy suburbia this means the pace is slow for the most part, because most people work long hours, are time poor and very few are available to 'hang out' during the week.

6. Our work is critical to the future of the church—ok so maybe that sounds a bit dramatic, but I'm serious—deadly serious! If the church in the west is in decline and our current approaches to mission are not cutting it, then we must take the time to explore other ways we can configure ourselves to connect with the world we live in. We desperately need more pioneering missionaries who are willing to follow Jesus into the difficult places and explore ways of engaging with a world that doesn't care if we exist. Some of what we attempt will fail, some of it will break ground and chart a course for others to follow. But we cannot underestimate the importance of what we are doing and its place in the future of the church. I sometimes tell people that our primary purpose at Forge is not to get more people coming to church, but to get more Christians going back into their communities living and thinking as missionaries. If we go some of the way to achieving this then I would die a happy man – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -
I actually have another 4 or 5 reasons I could offer as to why we need people to keep on going in pioneering mission, but I'll stop there as this article is already too long. As I struggle with my own sense of failure, and need for recognition there are days when I consider applying for pastoral jobs at local churches where the work is familiar and I know what I am doing, where at least there I can see the people in the 'saucer' coming along occasionally, where I get kudos for decent sermons and the size of the crowd makes me feel like I am doing something worthwhile. It is familiar territory and safe.But it doesn't feel like what I am made for. To move in that direction would be to pull the ship back into harbor and tie up to the dock. It would be to call the adventure 'over'. It would be to sign off on what God has called us to and to slip back into the safety zone. It was in a dream once that I sensed God saying 'the only reason Columbus actually discovered new lands was because he had the courage to lose sight of shore and to keep sailing and sailing and sailing…'While I often feel like a failure (and maybe you do too) I know I am not one. I know that I am being faithful to the call God has put on my life and right now I am doing exactly what he wants me to do. In that he is honored and pleased. I will continue to grapple with my own 'ego demons' and hopefully reach a place where I can live without self doubt and distraction. That time will come when I genuinely believe that success really is about faithfulness and not about how much I have accomplished. Until then please be patient with me and put up with my occasional laments, and in the mean time don't quit!