When I was in seminary I can remember reading Knowing God and telling a friend how interesting it is that J.I. Packer calls the word balance a “horrible, self-conscious word!”
At the time I found it strange that he would take a moment to sucker punch a word as innocent as balance but I honestly didn’t know what he was talking about. Even after learning more of his struggles with introspection I still don’t know fully his reasons for hating the word. However, in recent years I’ve come to appreciate my own disdain for the word as it relates to ministry.
In a few months from now (Easter, 2016 to be exact) the church where I serve will be moving into an almost completed church building in the center square of our city of Frisco Texas. Frisco (a suburban city in north Dallas) has been consistently one of the fastest growing cities in America for well over a decade with Frisco Square being one of several draws for relocating families. Through its relentless commitment to developing retail, business, luxury apartments and townhomes, and being host to big events, Frisco is seeking to leverage the town square as one more reason to move here. Its Christmas event alone boasts 600,000 visitors annually.
About seven years ago when our church plant was only around three years old and still getting to know one another and getting used to setting up chairs in our elementary school, we were given this very expensive and undeveloped land. The details of the story of how this opportunity came about are beyond this post, but I hope to share more in the future. Suffice it to say—we’re still stunned.
Now—all of that is very exciting. As someone who has been a part of the church plant when we only had a small group of leaders in a rental house and were filling up coffee pots from the school water fountain, its just as amazing now as the day we received this gift. It’s one of those stories I had heard sometimes happens for church plants—but not one I would have ever imagined would happen to ours.
All of this is very terrifying.
I think we all feel like you do driving home from the hospital with your first newborn. You’ve been waiting nine months. You have been setting up the nursery at home for some time. But as you drive out of the parking lot it just feels so wrong that a respectable hospital is entrusting this child to you.
I realize that all of this may not sound like a problem to a bivocational church planter with speakers and flyers in the trunk of his car—struggling to build a core team. When you’re barely making rent for the movie theater and navigating how to handle questions about the Fifty Shades of Grey poster with the leader of your children’s ministry things like land donations can fall on deaf ears. I get that.
But whether you are called to revitalize an aging congregation, begin a new church plant, or lead a church to relocation or expansion—you will know that scary and wonderful and mundane place of trying to pursue balance—with all its dangerous pitfalls of introspection. Doing faithful ministry in a certain season while at the same time seeing the clock tick to get ready for something that feels bigger and beyond you is a dangerous calling. It’s a step by step discovery of the struggle with tensions that show up when you are seeking not just one value, but two (and sometimes three or four)—simultaneously.
Striving to preserve the past only or living for the church of the future that only exists in your head each comes with unique challenges—but no bruises. But bring both of those into the present—into the right now of pastoral ministry–and you learn how vulnerable you are to living too long in the past or the future. Only the tugs of failure help us grow to being faithful with little while preparing for growth, stewarding the small while seeking multiplication, striving for contentment while feeling called to something ambitious, and trying to live fully in today (and the troubles therein), while preparing for tomorrow.
Over the next few months we will be planning our grand opening and first year in a new location. As we step into the future I would like to go back to when our church had a really bad website (and nametags at the door) and share some things I’ve learned (and learning) related to the tensions every church planter or revitalizer experiences at some point as you grow. Not just the victories and good decisions—but the bad ones too.
Some of these posts will be broadly applicable to pastoral ministry in general, and some will be much more personal—things unique to me that I’ve been learning along the way. Regardless, I will seek to be as candid and honest as possible and eager to learn from your experiences as well.
And—I promise. I will not be fully balanced.