January is typically a quiet month for churches as people go on holidays and numbers drop.
Sunday was pretty much all we had running so we just needed to show up and do what we could. We had lost another family by this point who were key musicians so we had actually run out of musos altogether. There was no one on the roster and we weren’t sure quite what to do with that. I was ‘responsible’ for the roster now (one of my pet hates) and didn’t have any answers to musical vacuum.
I couldn’t help but thinking of the challenge God put in front of Gideon as he gradually depleted his army and still called him to fight the battle. The reason for it all was so that Gideon couldn’t claim the victory as his own, but would give honour to God. I didn’t know if that was what was happening, or if we were just a broken community that needed to be put to rest. I believe sometimes churches need to die but I wasn’t sure if it was our time – or if I was just depressed.
But I felt I should speak to the church and challenge us to hear how God can work if we let him.
That Sunday there were 8 of us there at 9.30… and 4 of them were our family… I honestly didn’t have much confidence at all in the message I was about to bring and (ironically) that caused me to lose what little confidence I did. I was also leading the gathering, running the sound equipment and video gear. So once I’d set out the chairs – which was an easy job – I got the sound gear up and running and waited in the hope others might come. 7 others did by the time I had to speak. Probably our smallest ever Sunday gathering.
As I stood to speak I felt it quite deeply that I didn’t really believe this message held any hope for us. That wasn’t true at all of course – but it was how I felt. With just 15 people and a church that was continuing to unravel I felt like a fraud trying to inspire people with this story. It is a great story – an amazing story but I wasn’t owning it.
I believed God did that then, but I didn’t have any confidence that he could do it again now. There is a difference between believing and believing.
I remember punching my way thru what could have been a good sermon, finishing it and just wanting to get out of there. Our youth pastor had been inspired – but then he would be – it was his turn to be energised… He saw the irony and challenge of it all and was sensing God at work. I think my response was in the ballpark of ‘yeah… whatever…’
In all of this I wasn’t actually feeling like a loser or a failure or a bad leader. I just felt trapped. I felt like I had walked into something that was much more complex and unhealthy than I had perceived at the start way back in 2008.
I had been as clear as I could be about who we were and where we were headed and if we were to lead the church we would be headed in that direction. It was a take it or leave it proposition as we didn’t want to simply run back into being chaplains to a Sunday morning crew. And people said ‘yes’, but I realised later that people said ‘yes’ because they liked us – not because they were particularly enamoured with what we were on about. If fact I doubt many of them knew or cared what we had written on paper.
Had we known that then, there is no way we would have signed up.
Had they known the implications of what we were going to do they probably wouldn’t have asked us either. But as a regular guest preacher at the church I probably scrubbed up ok on those occasions. I was able to preach thru Andrew’s greatest hits from the last decade and tone down my more fiesty stuff for a pretty conservative Baptist congregation, but you really don’t get to know someone from hearing them preach.
Its one of the huge flaws in our system as a whole. If a church is going to call a pastor then it is assumed they need to hear him preach – and if he’s good its a big tick, but if he’s bad its usually all over. One thing I can usually do well is preach, and in Baptist circles that is a huge plus. Its a deal-maker.
As I look back on the process of joining the church I am not sure we could have done much more – except perhaps have been less naive. Now when people tell me that their church has given them a green light to pursue a missional path I am likely to respond with an ‘Oh yeah…’ because I don’t think too many churches actually know what that means, let alone can come to grips with its implications. I don’t think there is any malice in a church saying that either. Its just something of an unknown quantity for most churches in the west.
The one good thing to happen in all of this was that in seeing our numbers decrease we now had fewer people to convince of a new direction. When we first arrived there were around 80 people part of the church. That was down to 40 when we came back from our trip and now it was pretty much halved again.
So far so good… this is going well…