On My Dark Days

Most days I am an optimist, I love life and I love what God has called me to, however, every now and then I have dark moments, periods of self doubt, where I wonder if what we are doing as missionaries will actually ‘work’. I read the stories others tell of their new church plants that now have ‘100 in attendance’ and are rapidly outgrowing their premises, who are running this new program and that new program, and I wonder if we need to lift our game just a bit.

We seem to be moving so slow and ‘doing’ so little. We seem so insignificant on the ecclesiastical landscape – even on the church planting landscape. Now I know some of this is ego – no hiding that, but when you are creating as you go, with no instructions to work from, it is tempting to wonder if you’d be better staying with the tried and tested recipe that has brought the church this far rather than trying things that may not actually have any real success.

When it comes to ‘what works?’ I agree that your meat and potatoes (sing and listen) Sunday service does ‘work’ for some people. The stats in Australia would show maybe 10% of our unchurched population would consider buying into a typical Sunday gig. That is a reasonable chunk, and when the Sunday gig is done well ala some of our mega-churches then that number might even go up as high as 30%. It’s a pretty attractive niche in the market, especially because we are doing what we know and we don’t need to change much at all. We just need to do it better.

But… and it’s a hell of a ‘but’… even if 30% of Australian people began attending our churches tomorrow, that still leaves a humungous 70% who couldn’t give a toss how well we twang the guitar, or how entertaining the pastor’s message is. They aren’t remotely interested and probably never will be. That ought to concern us and frankly I’m not sure it does. Our response to them seems to suggest that we are only interested in connecting with them so long as they are willing to conform and be like us.

Now I’m not advocating we all abandon church as we have known it and do what is becoming known as the ’emerging’ thing (seems like a tired expression now to me). There is a place for the common expression of church. It does meet a need and does have some cultural appeal to the average unchurched punter. I would say that we need many kinds of churches for many kinds of people. We need people who aren’t just doing the ’emerging thing’, but who are clear thinking missionaries able to theologise into the local context and develop communities that are truly indigenous and full of biblical integrity.

The fact is that the path we have chosen may actually prove less fruitful than the path chosen by 99% of our ‘meat and potatoes’ churches. But what keeps me going in my moments of doubt is the fact that someone, somehow, has to ‘have a go’. Someone somewhere has to leave plan A and move on to plan B, C, D, W etc, until we begin to discover new ways of being and doing church that genuinely resonate with the communities we live in – with the people who think churches are for nutbags. If what we are doing isn’t making the connection then chances are we need to explore different ways rather than doing the same thing better. De Bono says ‘if you want to dig a hole over there, you don’t do it by digging the same hole deeper over here’. Duh…

I’m not one for failure – I hate to make a mess of things or come out at the end of the day with nothing to show for my efforts, but I know that’s a very real possibility for those of us who have chosen to take the missionary route.

I’m grateful for all my Forge mates and fellow missionaries who have also left ‘plan A’ and who help me keep focused on the goal when I feel like dropping the ball and running back to the 10%.

I actually don’t think I could look away now. I don’t think I could honestly say ‘Let someone else figure that one out. I’ll just run a church’. My focus has shifted too much.

But will it ‘work’?’

Dunno… dunno… sure hope so… but it might not…