What is Missing When We Start New Ministries

Image“…Our industrial culture doesn’t work that way. We talk about “sink or swim” is not as much sinking going on as you might expect.  There here’s a fair amount of treading water, a lot of people unwilling to get into the pool it all, but not so much sinking…but no one is burned it to cross…(we have) exaggerated the risk of sinking without celebrating the value swimming..”                    -Seth Godin “The Icarus Deception”

This past month I have been swimming.  And frankly, some days I feel like the shore is a mile off and sharks are chasing me.  But most days, the sun shines and the water is perfect and warm (after all, I do live in Southern California). 

But day in day out, I keep swimming.

Here is some of the past month to give you a sense of what “swimming” looks like for me:

+One of our house churches had to regroup.  One of the two couples felt that because of what was going on in their lives they were not at a place to participate.  The other couple decided to put things on hold and do some discernment.

+Someone who wanted to start a house church contacted me. They were part of a UMC (United Methodist Church) that closed.  Most of the people have moved on to another UM church but a small group of them was wondering if they could start a house church as well? We met but they not ready yet. I also met with two other folks to talk about what a house church is (so ‘starter’ conversations).

+I talked to a clergyperson whose mission area (a group of local UM churches that are linked together for mission and ministry) wants to train a group of college students to start dorm churches. I learned that there is something like 10 colleges/universities in their area and that one of the greatest problems these students have is homelessness.  This call was on the heels of talking to Conference young adults and youth leaders about starting the same thing with them. They were less engaged by the idea and as of yet, nothing has developed there.

+I went to Las Vegas to speak with a Western Jurisdictional gathering of young adult leaders.  Had several good conversations but as I was sick, I felt less than present. Did make a couple new Facebook friends though (smile).

+I started training of 3 churches that want to start a Messy Church to follow their VBS in the summer. This is a monthly 2-hour training February – June. This is the future.

+We started a twice-monthly call with house church leaders via Google Plus.

+I signed up for a 31-week training at Mentor Coach so I can grow in my skills as a coach and started to study Spanish.

So things have been happening – slowly but they are happening. And more importantly, I am finding I love helping people start new things.  It is what I am passionate about.

I am at a place in my life where I get to do what I love – I love coaching people to take what the Holy Spirit is saying to them and helping them make it happen. I think there is a huge need in our world to connect and encourage each other.  Huge. It is great to be part of something that encourages others in their work as pastors and leaders.

This week I listened to a life-changing TED talk by musician Amanda Palmer. I first heard about her in Seth Godin’s new book, “The Icarus Deception,” but still, I was not prepared.  You should really watch her talk here.

Amanda talks about the importance of connecting with people.  Not in the superficial, “how are you – I am fine” way but the crowd surfing kind of way. Crowd surfing, or body surfing, is when one person is passed overhead from person to person moving them from one side of a room to another.  Mostly done in concerts by lead singers, it is a startling thing to see and affecting for all involved.  Why?  I think because it involves something that we are in desperate need: TRUST

Trust. What do you think of when you think of trust?

For me trust is what faith is about.

Amanda’s talk made me think a lot about trust and its centrality in starting new ministries and in growing new leaders.   And I think trust matters so much because it is from trusting God, trusting each other and trusting ourselves that we become wiling to risk and try new things.  When we trust, we connect to one another. Trust keeps us from isolated and pretending.  Trust enables us to move forward together.

A recent blog shared these helpful tips in building and growing trust:

1. Be your word.

2. Take responsibility.

3. Hold others accountable.

4. Be values led.

5. Collaborate and value diversity.

6. Deal with broken trust.

7. Be open to feedback.

8. Trust yourself

But how do we show we trust one another as we try to do new things in ministry?

First, I think trusting someone means that we have to get past thinking that to trust means we are certain everything will work out.  

I think the reality is that many new ministries will last for a season, some a long season but others will be very short. And really, I don’t have trust the new ministry; I have trust the person leading and their willingness to work with the Holy Spirit. I believe them to be a person of value, so if this doesn’t work out and the ministry doesn’t work (didn’t Jesus said only 25% will produce a harvest?), we will celebrate that and move on to what God has for us next.  Yes, we will celebrate what didn’t work cause we have learned and we are getting closer to what will.

New leaders sit on the shore (to go back to the quote that begun this post) because I believe they feel if they cannot swim perfectly from the time they hit the water, we will let them drown.  And they think that because we have done that and they have watched us do this.  Sad.

A slight variation on this theme is the “we will see” attitude that is so pervasive in local churches.  This is where we let folks try something new but instead of diving in with them and encouraging them along, we stand on the shore and fold our arms and say, “we will just see.”  And when things don’t work out (which often they will not) we won’t just lose the ministry, we will lose the leader whose heart and faith are broken.

We show trust when we support one another in success and failure by being present to one another.

Second, I believe we trust one another when we invest in one another financially.

I was recently sharing with a friend about how when among us does something amazing – like write a book – others of us will say, “who do they think they are to write a book?” Clergy types are jealous and critical and that is sad. I would like to invite another response: buy the book. Get over yourself and support what others are doing. Doing new things is hard and supporting someone who puts himself or herself out there shows you can be trusted. Can you be trusted?

Amanda Palmer talks about how hard it is to ask for help.  She had this experience as a musician and realized that out of her trust for her fans—who would catch her when she crowd surfed as well as let her “couch surf,” meaning, letting her sleep on the sofa of fans—she could ask them to fund her records. But–and here is where it gets really interesting for ministry— the other piece is she gives her music away for free, inviting donations. With one of the most successful campaigns in Kickstarter history and the ongoing funds she receives from those who appreciate her music, Amanda trusts her fans to fund her music. 

Do we trust each other that much?

I must admit, Amanda’s model is the most attractive model of ministry I have encountered in a long while.  As I started the network, I stopped receiving a salary.  I felt God was calling me in this direction and so I went. But this model isn’t sustainable for the average pastor who may not have a partner whose job allows the bills to still get paid. In addition, I feel we are called to give to support the work of God, so this helped me think more about this in my own model of ministry (maybe the House Church Network will have its own Kickstarter campaign?).

The third way we show trust in each other is more personal. I think we show trust when we offer everyday encouragement to one another.

I say this because last week started out with our neighborhood house church which began in earnest last fall with 10-12 people and good energy.  But then all of a sudden we were back down to 5—Why? Life, work, relationship issues.  It will go back up once people are feeling better, back from travel, etc. You know how it goes.

So as we gathered around homemade pizza and salad we talked about our hopes for our house church and I got to listen to how this was working for others.  And, it was working for them.  One shared how she had always wanted to read the Bible and how helpful this was in really getting to read and understand it.  Another shared about the closeness of the group. Others said they wanted to us invite some folks to get our momentum back. It was upbeat and positive.

Then the next day, one couple dropped off a huge (huge) bag of coffee to me with a great note of encouragement. Made me cry.

As I reflected on this all week I saw how they are doing for me what I am doing for others – they are trusting me and coaching me and encouraging me through the ups and downs of doing new things.  I am blessed to be trusted so much with this fragile group.  And I have grown in my ability to trust them too.

I will continue to swim – sometimes well and sometimes poorly but I will be keeping in mind the importance of trust in all I do and maybe I will work up the nerve to crowd surf – anyone want to join me at Annual Conference?