February to February is not your typical time to do a “Year in Review”, but I’ve never been labeled as typical. In fact, I’ve often joked that the only thing truly consistent about me is my own inconsistency. So since I’ve been in this atypical mode all my life, I’ve decided to write a longer-than-usual blog that explains why I am not planning on planting a church.
I journal, usually daily, in the cheapest, small notebook I can purchase. You’ve probably seen them in the store: manila cover, thin-lined and about half the size of a 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper. I’ve done this for decades, and while the nature of my journal has changed through the years, it serves as a reminder of what God has taught me in that time period. My current notebook started in February 2010 and was completed on 2/27, so following my habit of the past several years, I’ve reviewed the contents… reliving some of the trials and victories of the past 12 months. It’s been a hard year, but a good year.
So long story short, I started down the “church plant path” because I have been hearing God say to me: “Feed My Sheep”. My pastor suggested planting a church and I thought that made sense. So going down that path a little ways, I decide to stop and ask the Lord to confirm it. He basically says something similar to what He’s always said to me: “It doesn’t matter what you do, just take Me with you.” So I ask Him about planting a church in the Fort Ben area of Indy, and He says, “I will bless it!”, which at the time sounds like “That’s perfect, Mitch… just what I was hoping you’d say! This is going to be the BEST CHURCH EVER!!!” But something I’ve discovered is that His idea of blessing and mine are often two different concepts.
As I’m writing this, I have to admit that I’m feeling a bit of shame… more than a little embarrassed. One of the things that hurt was that I truly felt like I was following His lead, but along the way, every door that appeared to be opening was suddenly shut. Now I don’t want to sound ungrateful as I write this, but I had a lot of cheerleaders and no team mates. Maybe they were there and I just didn’t see them. But it seemed like the people who sounded like they would join the team either backed away or were somehow committed elsewhere. So while I appreciate the encouragement of the cheerleaders… games can’t be won with just cheerleaders. And while I could have tried the guilt or manipulation tactics that I’ve seen so often, I never wanted to be that kind of leader.
So in the end, I had to ask if I was really leading. After all, it’s hard to say you’re leading when no one is following. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say I was “lone-ing it”, since I truly was alone in it. In fact, I was so alone, that even my family wasn’t even a part of it. Don’t get me wrong, my wife is my biggest cheerleader, but she wasn’t willing to be a running back. And just to extend the analogy a little further, my kids were playing under the bleachers. So stepping out on the field, I looked at the empty bench and said: “Where are You, God? Have you abandoned me too?”
So in the midst of this spiritual crisis, Deb and I are suddenly confronted with tragic news, and given our very different responses to the situation, the crisis threatens to shatter our relationship. Without going into details, from the end of August into October, we’re daily having crucial conversations that could cause either one of us to walk away from the marriage. It was that serious. Meanwhile, I am thrust into a serious situation at work that threatens to end my contract abruptly. Just a little stress to make life interesting…
A few months before all of this, as part of the whole church planting process, I was encouraged by the pastor of our church to spend some time forming my values. His reasoning was very sound: you know what to say “yes” to if you know what you value. Just to drive it home further, the Vineyard Church Planting Boot Camps re-emphasized it. This was great advice, and it really made something clear to me: I no longer belonged at that church. I realized in the process that what I valued was taking me in a different direction than the church. But as a result of this exercise, I’m also able to stand a little firm in what I value, even when I don’t feel like valuing what I know to be true.
So God seems absent, Deb and I are having a tough time, the job is more than a little stressful, and my feelings of not belonging are at an all-time high.
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)
Now at the time, I understood that the absence of “team mates” could mean that my timing was just a little off. It could also mean that I needed to seek healing. But all I really knew for sure at the time was that I felt a tremendous feeling of abandonment and rejection. So it was at this point that I decided to attend a “Restoring the Foundations” (RTF) workshop. RTF is an inner healing ministry that I give two thumbs up, not simply because I theoretically agree with the approach, but because it made a real, practical difference in my life. I can’t say that RTF saved my marriage any more than I the disciplines of healthy communication, but I know it dealt with many of the abandonment issues I was experiencing and helped to strengthen my relationship with God. And like all relational crises, getting through the moment strengthens the relationship in the end. The suffering -> perseverance -> character -> hope process of Romans 5 really hit home as a result.
I don’t want to walk through another year like this last one, but I am confident that with God’s help I could find victory again… I have a more firmly grounded hope than I did in February 2010. So I can definitely say that I was “blessed” by the year.
I admit that I’m still not sure what “Feed My sheep” means in a practical sense for me. I believe the church in America is sick and needs to get back to the basics. Since October, we’ve entertained the idea of a home church as well as visiting local churches. We’ve seen several good, Christian communities, but none that seem like a fit yet. I don’t want to let the perfect be the enemy of the good, but I don’t want to just settle either. We’re looking for a place that invites an intimacy with God, first and foremost; a church doctrine that emphasizes being set apart for God in obedience as a response to the great measure of grace that has been extended to us; and a community that promotes healthy relationships and lifestyles. Finally, I need a church that helps me raise my kids with a firm knowledge of God’s love, His Word and His Grace. I want it to be place that knits families together rather than splinters them off into different age groups. And I believe it’s not going to be found in a large church community. Let me know if you know about this place.
“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)
“The mind decides the path, the Lord directs the footsteps.” (Proverbs 16:9)
copyright ©2011 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)