I have been thinking about "failures" lately. It has been coming up a lot in the past few weeks (which often means it's the Spirit).
Last week, I met a woman who had been the pastor of a new church start in Miami. When she arrived, it had been struggling for its first five years of existence. In the two years in which she served as pastor, it became a recovery ministry, reaching people struggling with addiction. Through this ministry, lives were literally and spiritually saved- people have been transformed. But because of its history and funding circumstances, it could not become a self supporting church in the two years she served. So it is being grafted together with another church family. It has been a work of the Spirit for all involved. The receiving church has been re-energized and the new church folks continue to be in vital recovery ministry.
She commented to me that in traditional terms, the new church was considered a "failure". I told her I struggle with that concept. Who is to say that a ministry which touches lives so deeply is a failure because it does not fit a standard definition?
Later the same week, I made a presentation about how God is working in our church family, especially as it relates to Jacob's Well. I commented that during launch and continuing to the present, I often feel unsure of how to accomplish things. I trust completely in the Spirit and in our gathered team to accomplish what God set before us, while being as informed and faithful as I know how to be. But it never feels like enough. This keeps me clear about who is really doing all of this- God.
One of the people there commented to me afterwards that this was the most encouraging thing I said- it was a relief to know I was no "expert" but someone striving and learning faithfully. (As a side note, I think this is why church workshops can be so discouraging. The presenters always come off as always having everything together and on the ball. Surely that cannot be true for the vast majority of us?)
Then I had a conversation with a friend on Saturday. I talked about how I spend most of my time feeling like we are teetering on the edge of a cliff. The Spirit has not let us fall yet. I also talked about how I think "failures" (world's definition) have been the fertile soil of God's most significant work. She commented she was very relieved to hear that.
If our church family had not had a Saturday night service that lasted a few years, and then a Sunday night prayer and praise service for a few years, I don't think Jacob's Well would have been launched. It was in the soil of those ministries in which Jacob's Well took root. They were not failures, but rather ministries that lasted a season. They were one of the many ways the soil was prepared for new growth.
In 2004, our church family went through the process of trying to buy land on Route 213. The seller refused to sell to us because of the amount of time it would take for perk tests and zoning requests. I know now that it was not God's timing to buy that parcel. Within six months of the sale falling through, God raised up a person who owns more land on 213. She would find total joy in selling us her land. I pray that God will bring this to fruition sometime in the future.
Also, we are now beginning conversation about having a Blended Parish Ministry structure for Town Point, Trinity, and Jacob's Well. If this is how God is moving, we would become unified in membership, administrative structure, and finances....one church with three locations. Some of the seeds of these possibilities were planted in the "failure" to acquire the land in 2004.
Finally, I think about how we voted at Town Point to not host the rotating homeless shelter there. God then used so many of us across the Charge, on all sides of the issue, to serve the homeless in other ways...at the Generation Station, at St. Paul's, at Trinity, and in relationship with folks regardless of where the shelter was hosted on a given week. In the seeds of that very difficult time, God nurtured existing seeds and planted new seeds for tremendous ministry among the homeless.
I don't yet know what the future will bring. I am certain that whatever the outcome, God will use it for God's purpose.
I am reminded of a phrase that was on our front sign for a few weeks: "Nothing that is done for God is ever lost."
I am also reminded of one of my favorite passages from the books of Acts, which came up in the lectionary a few weeks ago. It is the account of the apostles being brought before the council and persecuted for preaching about Jesus. The council was debating how to proceed, and one of their leaders said this:
But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. Then he said to them, ‘Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!’