One of the most important lessons I took away from my sabbatical was the difference between faithfulness and effectiveness.
In the beginning the vision was clear. I felt called to form a new community of people radically committed to truth, love, justice and beauty. I wanted to reach people who had been disenfranchised or hurt by the local church. To reimagine Jesus’ dream for the ‘new humanity’, to reignite their passion for the New Testament church, and to embody that dream together in the city of Des Moines. Unfortunately the original dream was quickly overwhelmed by the harsh realities of church planting.
I believed that in order to be faithful I needed to be effective.
As a result faithful devotion to prayer, worship, family and community became less and less important. Instead I focused on becoming an effective leader. I was driven to raise the most amount of money, purchase the best equipment, hire the best staff and preach the best sermons.
“When we see love as something to be earned, we quiet our inner convictions, valuing what others define as success and striving to do more and do it better.” - Ian Morgan Cron
I started idolizing large creative churches and highly successful leaders rather than faithfully pastoring the church God had called me to start. My definition of success became about impressing people with my wisdom, spirituality and natural leadership abilities. I tried to project these images of success to the world while hiding my sense of being a failure.
I was obsessed with effectiveness, endlessly obsessing over failure, and growing more and more obsessive with the direction of the church.
Because I believed failure was unacceptable, I was unable to admit my mistakes and behaved as though I was superior to others. In fact, most of the time I felt inferior to everyone. I was afraid of letting people see my weakness, afraid of what they might think or that they may decide leave the church. I began to hate myself for my faults as a leader and resented the church for not growing the way I thought it should.
"When we live according to our fears and our hates, our lives become small and defensive, lacking the deep, joyous generosity of God." -Walter Bruggemann
We naturally have an extrinsic model of success; a certain job status, a certain amount of wealth, or a certain size church. True success, however, is intrinsic; it’s about love, kindness, and community. I needed to challenge my definition of success, to craft a new one based on my true feelings, desires and values rather than those inherited from culture.
This summer Parker Palmer said that if you cling to effectiveness you will begin to take on smaller and smaller tasks. Rather than faithfully pursuing God and his dream for a restored creation, you will focus on attendance, budgets and buildings. Of course spreadsheets are important, they just are not the most important.
“If you are truly committed to truth, love, justice and beauty you will never be effective… but you can be faithful.” - Parker Palmer
The dream I started with was a good one, its just not one that myself or anyone will be able to effectively implement on this side of eternity. But I am learning how to endure the gap between the ideal and the real. The dream and the reality. The already and the not-yet.
God expects faithfulness, not perfection. He is never disappointed in me, but he does want more for me. More life and vitality. More honesty and transparency. More joy and laughter and love. More forgiveness and grace. More energy and excitement. More child-like wonder and amazement.
When I remain faithful to God and who He has called me to be, these things begin to flow, my soul begins to heal, and the church can naturally begin to flourish.
“No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.” - Nathaniel Hawthorne
- Pastor Paul