Like those people who wake up hung-over from the night before vowing to never drink again only to find themselves at a bar later that day, every time I look forward to being part of a pre-existing movement, my heart flutters at the thought of another unreached place.
This past week my wife and I were in Guyana at missions conference with students and staff from all around the Caribbean where we had the opportunity to lead a workshop on our experiences in starting new ministry. I thought it’d be appropriate to share some of those ruminations here.
- Not only is it okay to fail, you will fail – You have to be pretty solid in your relationship with Jesus to start new ministry. If you’re someone whose worth is contingent on success, planting will be your worst nightmare. Planting always involves risk and risk always opens the possibility of failure. It hurts but it’s part of the journey. It’s best to not take it personal, learn what you can, and move on. Fail often.
- It’s okay to start small – When I was on staff in Florida I was assigned to one particular campus. By the end of that first year I had something going on at four of the five main campuses. That may sound impressive but none of them had solid foundations. They were four flimsy chapters with a staff worker spread so thin real discipleship couldn’t take place. In starting small, you allow yourself to invest in a concentrated effort with the hope and vision it will grow to become self-sustaining if not multiplicative. Speaking of vision…
- Vision is everything – Without vision the people perish and so do ministries. Vision informs who you are, what you’re trying to accomplish, how you’ll get there, and sometimes the timeline you’re working with. It creates space for buy-in, which allows for unity within a community (after all, a house divided against itself will not stand). Without vision, it’s impossible to put appropriate structures in place and find the right leaders. You’ll find yourself expending lots of energy but it will all be counterintuitive.
- Context is key – When I joined InterVarsity as a student, it was at a small, private liberal arts university in the heart of downtown Tampa. When I came on staff, I was sent to a 48,000-person community college with five main campuses and numerous satellite locations. Even now as I pioneer ministry, I’m in another country where the main campus has 1,000 students from all around the island. Ministry has looked completely different in all three places. A lot of things will make or break your ministry but failure to know your context is striking out before you even play the game. Failure to know your context is in essence failure to love and affirm the people you’re reaching, which has disaster written all over it.
Planting is one of the hardest things I’ve done. It’s lonely, it’s frustrating, and it highlights every insecurity and fault in me. Yet I’m crazy enough enter the flames repeatedly and expect a different result. For all the failure experienced, few things beat the joy that comes when something actually works. I feel closest to God in the fight to see his kingdom come. And that has been the biggest thing planting has shown me about myself: I enjoy a challenge.