Warning – long rambling, reflective post ahead…
Way back 10 years ago in September of 2003, after a nomadic 6 months of travelling, while waiting for our new home to be built, we finally moved house into the new estate of ‘Brighton’, where the developer’s tagline was ‘Its what a community should be.’ (Its wasn’t…)
We went there with 4 other families from our previous church to ‘start over’ – to re-imagine church and to see ourselves as missionaries in the western world. We set out with our tanks full of missionary zeal and enthusiasm, completely unaware of what the next 7 years would hold, but convinced that God had called us and that we would discover ways of being God’s people that resonated better with Australian people than what was on offer around us.
Its the ideal way to start any venture – full of conviction, enthusiasm and vision, even if we were a little short on realism… That said, there aren’t many ‘realists’ who set out to start new things as the vision and optimism has been kicked out of them by the stuff of life.
It was 6 months earlier that this blog began. It was a way of staying in touch with folks from our previous church, but in the end I don’t think any of them read it… However I rediscovered my love of writing and so things kept rolling on here.
Just two years previous I had changed roles at Lesmurdie Baptist and gone from being youth pastor to team leader. It was a significant transition both for me and for the church and in it I wanted to lead the church towards being involved in church planting. Most people liked the theory of this, but neither them nor me had counted on it being such a disruption to our lives.
You can read about the journey to Brighton and all that went with it elsewhere in this blog, but my reason for writing here is more to reflect on where we are 10 years on.
The ‘Upstream’ years were amazing years. In the scheme of things very little went to plan. At times it was humbling and even humiliating not to be able to do what I had thought I would be able to do. And yes I use the word ‘I’ intentionally because I think that was part of the problem. I think others in the team were much more content to let God do what he wanted and how he wanted, but I had some ideas and I wanted him to pull his finger out and make them work for me. He wasn’t compliant. I didn’t think much of him for that.
In short I was not the success I had thought I would have been and in the end we closed Upstream as some of the team moved away and our core crew had reduced to just a couple of families. As we closed it, we joined with Quinns Baptist, where Danelle and I took up the role of being team leaders.
The missional energy that had formed us in those 7 years was still there, but some of the passion had wilted for me. I was convinced intellectually of some things, but my heart had grown weary of toiling away for what seemed like little result. We didn’t seem to make a difference like I thought we would and I was weary from the effort it had taken. In theory mission to the west sounded great. In reality I was tired and struggling to admit it.
So we moved to leading an established church – a dysfunctional established church with two factions on a collision course. We ended up being the catalyst for that collision to take place sooner rather than later and so our entry back into established church world was everything we had dreaded. Politics and power plays were the order of the day and we quickly found ourselves wondering just what we were doing there. As much as we could discern God’s voice he seemed to be saying ‘stay there’.
So we did and things have changed significantly. I love our church now and I am happy to be there, in fact I find it hard to ever envisage leaving. Who would have thought?…
But what of the ‘backyard missionary’? What of the original sense of calling that took us here? We still live in the same region and mix it up with some of the same crew, albeit in different ways.
I have questioned at times whether this blog needs a new title. I have wondered whether I am still that person who began writing it 10 years ago and the truth is I am not.
You’d hope that though wouldn’t you? If you hadn’t changed significantly in your forties then you’d be wondering ‘why not?’
When I read the title ‘backyard missionary’ now I read it with a whole different energy to what I did 10 years ago. Back then I felt I was someone who had stuff to say that needed to be heard and often my blog was a soapbox. To be fair some of that stuff did need to be both said and heard. But some of it was just pontificating in the absence of any real experience.
At times in the last few years I have had to work hard at not becoming either cynical or indifferent. When you realise that changing the world is not down to you then its tempting to cruise – to just roll along and go with the flow because you can’t really change anything anyway. I’ve felt like that at times. Helpless and hopeless are too strong words, but perplexed and disturbed fit well. The western world feels like a hard place to do Christian mission. And then I wonder if its the western world, or if it’s me?… Us?… The fact that so many of us have our priorities arse-about, and we wonder why we seem impotent.
A big reason for setting out on the journey 10 years ago was my critique of the church I was leading and its lack of missional energy. I now a lead a church that is probably less effective or intentional missionally than the one I left.
I sometimes wonder ‘what’s with that?’
In all of this my understanding of what God is asking of me has shifted. I no longer devote myself to full time Christian work. I have an ordinary job. My own business. While I didn’t set out to get here its been one of the better developments in my life. I can’t imagine ever being a full time minister again in a local church. I wonder what people do who are full time…
In this space 10 years on mission has become much more integrated and relaxed. I don’t feel the need to pursue people the way I once did. I guess that has both an upside and a downside. I want to listen more to God and the way he is leading and be less driven. I find that a hard line to walk because the other side of the line often feels like laziness.
I get the feeling who I am is probably more attractive to a person looking on than I was 10 years ago. I’m not sure what that is, but I sense it has something to do with having less of an agenda – less of a drive to convert – its less about ‘me’ maybe?
In this space I sometimes wonder if I have become one of the people I despised. If I am now the preoccupied, self obsessed middle class westerner who talks a much better game than he plays. I wish I had that same zeal and urgency that burned so strongly 10 years ago, but I don’t. And I can’t summon it up. It just feels odd. False. Wrong.
Or maybe I judged those people harshly and incorrectly. Maybe there is stuff you only learn as you get older?…
And maybe passion and vitality manifests in many different ways?…
Thanks Andrew for being so honest and open. I loved this post! So refreshin. Sounds like a crazy but fruitful journey.
Congratulations on ten years of blogging. Your blog (and ministry) has been important to the church in Perth.
I ask similar questions of myself looking back. Maybe what I didn’t know ten years ago is that being passionate and zealous wasn’t everything.
It’s so important to have found a sustainable way to live and minister that takes into account a lot of the insights you gained in pursuing your original vision.
Just to say thanks for sharing the journey. I stumbled across your blog about 7 years ago. At the time we were part of a conventional pentecostal church here in the UK – I was interested in international mission and saw the word ‘missionary’ in the title… The blog introduced me to people like Alan Hirsch, Brian Mclaren and Scot McKnight. My wife and I then went on a several-year journey massively questioning a lot of what we knew about conventional church and our theology. It’s been an exciting time. We did stuff like help set up a soup kitchen and anonymous acts of kindness in our community – today we are part of a non-flashy local missional church – it’s far from perfect but it’s very different to where we were before. I haven’t followed your blog the entire time, but if I think back, backyardmissionary was probably the entry point for us. Thanks again for sharing.
Thanks for the feedback Carlos! Good to hear your story