Harder Than It Looks... More from "Magpies"

October 23, 2009

What I hear from many pioneers is that they would rather learn everything themselves while journeying.

That always sounded dumb to me. Why learn lessons on your own if you can read about someone else’s mistake. But someone has to learn the first lessons. When God calls a pioneer he is calling them to discover the landmines. It is pretty humbling how often we make mistakes without a guide or a map.

Land mines would be less dangerous if they had flags waving from them. We started placing flags in the places we discovered explosives ten years ago. It didn’t really help us but we felt it may make the walking a little less, umm, loud. Here are a few of the landmines that you can count on in every new venture. Whether you have been called to begin a different type of Sunday School class, move to a new city to start over or launch something fresh and original, there are principles that govern our efforts.

  1. Planting is harder than it looks. There we were. Now gainfully unemployed, raising our support as missionaries to most metro churches backyard. The thought had never occurred to us that finding students to fill a ministry would be difficult. We’d just talk to students, and they would come. We imagined pastors of small rural congregations warmly receiving us as we offered to help them build a student ministry. We had visions of churches seeing full pews with teenagers anxious to be a part of this great partnership. As they say on the school grounds, “Then we woke up”.

We did find kids fairly quickly. We would go to a softball or basketball game and sit in the student section. We began conversations and explained what we were doing in their world. God showed up. His timing was impeccable and in our first year we met a few influential students that were hungry for more. Kids were willing.

Pastors were not. Most pastors in an area where the average church size is fifty have many of the same fears. They also, candidly, lack some of the skills that pastors of larger churches. It becomes easy, and I can say this after many years now, to minister from one little issue to the next, allowing a calling to a great vision to bleed out into an endless sea of light bills, board meetings and hospital visits. A pastor in the rural community most often struggles to delegate because there is no one to delegate to. If they find a person to participate in the priesthood of all believers then parishioners very often feel that the pastor is shirking their responsibilities. Besides, nobody can do it as well as the Pastor. They are in high demand for many small things. They are busy.

We found that although our rural pastors were romantically attracted to our ministry, caught a bit of the vision and in fact saw the need in their own church, we were asking them to help us shift a culture of youth ministry. That is not something many pastors get into ministry to do. They preach. They love their people. They lead but they are too often the first into the fray of change and many times are battle scarred to the point of maintenance. The need was glaring. In one case, a church had just one set of students and one leader. The kids were brother and sister and the leader was their parent. This made a “Love, Sex, and Dating” segment creepy, to say the least. In spite of the obvious need there was too much work to be done in order to change the pattern. That church has disbanded now.

My own home church, does it’s ministry in the city. It has been hugely instrumental in enabling us, but still has a blind spot when it comes to the needs of the rural church. Money is next to unattainable for a stateside, rural, youth ministry missions model start-up. People don’t want to hear that the rural fences are broken down. It will destroy their vision of the romantic past.

Leaders of new things are often called to bring attention to the needs of the new field. I believe it is the primary function of the pioneer. We are the heralds of hope to our places of ministry and the harbinger’s of reality to those who aren’t here with us. That was what all of the slide shows, power points and missions films have tried to do. Missionaries have attempted to connect people of means to fields of needs. A pastor does that when one of their flock needs a car repaired or their home made livable. A missionary does that when starving children can be fed using our spare coins. The agent of change communicates need, plight and pain to those who, if energized, could make a difference.

Our first years in this ministry had us sharing the message with sick churches in the country that they were sick. Nobody wants to hear that. We also were burdened to tell people who had left their back home, small town roots that the memories they had was no longer the reality. That wasn’t very popular either. Our communication became quite a bit like the train wreck that you cannot look away from but is too massive a tragedy to act on.

It was harder than we thought it would be.

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