I had the privilege this week to spend time down in Orlando with my wife and the other pastors and their wives at a church planting conference. We and 5000+ other people spent time drinking in from the experiences and insights of others who have gone before us. The problem is, that drinking felt a little like drinking from a firehose, if you understand the analogy. In other words, it’s a lot of information in a short period of time with little process time in between.
A guy by the name of Matt Chandler was one of the speakers at the conference and he had a lot of very valuable things to say. Among the valuable things that he said was that conferences, in some ways, weren’t fair. People come to a conference and hear people whose experiences are non-normal describe all that they have been through. There are enough of them that have had these non-normal experiences so that their non-normal experiences seem like they are normal. After listening to them for a few days, it could easily be assumed that this is the new normal. Then everyone goes back home to their version of normal, only to find that what seemed normal was really non-normal and it can easily lead to discouragement.
Out of everyone who was there, Chandler was probably the one that I appreciated the most because of his humility and the fact that he just put out there the fact that things are different between everyone’s circumstances. For too often within the Christian subculture, we’ve taken something that worked somewhere and tried to duplicate it exactly in our own context without changing things at all. When it fails, we wonder what we did wrong. How come it didn’t work?
The problem with that approach is that it doesn’t seek to do the hard work of building relationships with people in your own context. It doesn’t seek to do the hard work of spending time understanding who you are trying to reach and what makes them tick. Duplicating a “successful” strategy can easily become a copout, a shortcut to “success” which actually leads to failure and hurt.
I’ll never forget a conversation that I had with a friend of mine in Asheville when my wife and I were trying to discern what to do. We had sensed that our time in Asheville was ending but we had grown attached to the people with whom we were friends. We were torn about the idea of leaving and considered what it might look like to start a church. Through prayer and discernment, we decided that was not what God was calling us to (which is a good thing since it seems that everybody else in the Christian world decided to start a church in Asheville).
I sat down with my friend and he started asking me questions about where God was leading me. I told him that we thought about starting a church but we just weren’t sure where. He asked me where we would go or where we would like to be. I mentioned a location and started my own strategizing, how I might go about doing it. He stopped me and just asked, “what would it look like for you to go there and just build relationships?”
But how would I make money, how would my family live? He told me that wasn’t really the point. He said that I couldn’t go somewhere to start a church because then that would be the driving factor behind everything that I did. What if I went somewhere and just began to build relationships with people, began to see what made people tick, began to understand what it was that resonated within their souls?
I’ve never forgotten that conversation. I am so grateful to my friend for that advice. If he hadn’t given it and if I hadn’t listened, who knows where my family and I might have ended up.
As I contemplate all the things that I’ve heard over the last few days, there are so many nuggets, just like the one that my friend gave me, that speak to me deep down inside. Over the next few weeks, I will have to spend time processing over my notes, chewing them over, drinking from a glass instead of a firehose. I’ll ask myself hard questions and will also be able to process with the people who were with me at the conference.
Drinking from a firehose can be good, but if you do it all the time, you get oversaturated. At some point, you’ve got to step away from the firehose and begin to work off the water that you’ve ingested. If all you do is drink and you never move away from the firehose, it’s not going to do much good. I’ve tasted and I’ve seen, now it’s time to go and do. There will be time to drink from the firehose again, but I’ve got to get to work and work up a thirst again. Here we go!