Failure

We’ve invited a guest speaker to our church next month. His bio says that he’s a “husband, dad, friend, big sinner enjoying an even bigger grace, unlikely pastor, wanna-be-musician, writer-at-times, a guy with an odd sense of humor (ask my wife).”

When I sent out an email with the bio to our church, I received a confused response. “I noticed that you wrote, after saying he is a great dad and friend, that he is a big sinner. I think you want to say singer?”

He may indeed be a big singer, but what I wrote is no mistake. His bio says that he’s a big sinner. And I love that about him. As Nate Larkin wrote of his ministry, he “talked about his own sin in the present tense and celebrated the mercy of God every Sunday.”

It seems that some of us aren’t used to leading with our sins and our failures. Not everyone writes a bio like our guest speaker, or, as another example, this one:

Jared is not a catalytic "agent of change" or a visionary anything. He is a failed church planter and once made a mess of his marriage. He likes food too much and worries way too much about what people think, and he's definitely not all that he's cracked up to be. After 20 years of ministry, he's mainly learned that he's kind of a nincompoop. But he knows Jesus loves him.

A Princeton professor is in the news this week because he posted a CV of failures. He listed all the “degree programs I did not get into,” the “academic positions and fellowships I did not get,” and the “paper rejections from academic journals.” It’s a CV of setbacks and failures. It sounds like something the apostle Paul did (2 Corinthians 11:30). And I love it.

Dan Allender once wrote:

To the degree you face and name and deal with your failures as a leader, to that same extent you will create an environment conducive to growing and retaining productive and committed relationships in ministry. Sometimes the quickest path up is down, and likewise, the surest success comes through being honest about failure.

Let’s start being honest with our failures. It’s a good antidote to image management, and a great door to creating safety and honesty for others.

Clarity

One of the greatest lessons I've learned in the past few years is about clarity. I agree with Will Mancini, self-proclaimed clarity evangelist, who says, "Clarity isn't everything, but it changes everything." I've been learning this lesson in three areas.

Ministry Clarity

When I began the process of church planting, I found myself confused. I began reading all the church planting books. Everyone had a different model, and they were all sure that theirs was right.

I remember closing the books while on a retreat. I pulled out a journal, and began to write about the church I sensed God was calling us to plant. I incorporated insights from what I'd learned, but sensed that I needed to get clear about what God was calling us to do.

Since then I've worked on developing greater clarity with our team using Will Mancini's books Church Unique and God Dreams. We have a one-page summary of our mission, values, strategy, and marks. We also have a one-page planning document that summarizes our five-year vision, three-year vision, and one-year and 90-day initiatives.

I've served in churches that lacked clarity. It cost us. Looking back, I wish we had forced ourselves to wrestle through the process of gaining clarity about what God was calling us to do. Not only would it have prevented pain, but it would have helped our ministry.

Personal Clarity

I knew Will Mancini as the church clarity guy. A couple of years ago I heard Will talk about personal clarity. I attended every session that I could, and became hooked on the idea.

When I heard that Will as leading a personal vision cohort, I jumped in. The process was helpful, and I ended up with a two-page document that I have with me almost all the time. The first page outlines my mission, values, measures, strategy. The second page outlines what I'm working on using different time horizons: 3 years, 1 year, 90 days, and next week.

Here's what I wrote at the end of the process:

Over the years, I’ve tried many tools to help me get personal clarity. Most of them were helpful, but it always felt like I was missing something, or that the tools were too complicated to meaningfully guide my life.  The Younique Personal Vision Journey is the first one that has been comprehensive enough to encompass all of my life, and simple enough to use every day. I have greater clarity than ever before about God’s call on my life, and how to translate this into action.

Business Clarity

My wife and I are working on a new initiative right now. I'm excited about it, and I'll be writing more about it soon. We're working hard at getting clarity about what we are trying to do. I'm finding Business Model Generator helpful. When we're done, we will have a one-page document that outlines our business plan and clarifies what we hope to do.

I love the process of gaining clarity, so that every area of my life — ministry, personal, and business — is summarized in just a few pages. "It’s simple to make things complex, but it’s complex to make things simple," says Mancini. It's hard work to get to simple clarity, but it's worth it.

Unoffendable

Somebody should keep a list of stupid things that people say to pastors. The only problem is that someone would pull out a list of stupid things that pastors say. If you want to look for offense, you never have to look far.

The problem is that unity never survives long when people start to get ticked. And when people get ticked, and unity disappears, the Spirit tends to flee. It's death for a church. In the history of revival, even when the Spirit is active, "no drop of blessing has descended there where a spirit of controversy and strife had obtained a footing," we read in The Revival of Religion. "The Spirit of God hovered around but fled from the scene of discord as from a doomed region where his dove-like temper could find no resting place."

We need to give others a lot of slack. This doesn't mean ignoring sin, because that can be a lack of love. It means, though, that we're slow to take offense. Our first reaction must be extending grace rather than judgment and anger.

As someone said to me last year: Be unoffendable.

Why? For one thing, Scripture commends being slow to anger (Proverbs 14:29 James 1:19) and overlooking offenses (Proverbs 17:9; 19:11) out of love (Proverbs 10:12). Also, it creates a pretty sweet spirit within a church. Have you ever seen a church in which people are always extending grace? I have. It's compelling. There's nothing quite like it.

The best reason to be unoffendable, though, is because of how God has treated us. "Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love" (Micah 7:18). If God has lavished his grace on us, how can we not do the same for others?

By God's grace, give others what they need, and what you need too. Help shape a church that reflects the beauty of the gospel. Be obedient, and reflect how God has treated you. Be unoffendable.

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Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

I.O.U.

I've never thought of evangelism as a debt before, at least until I studied Romans 1:14-15:

I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. (Romans 1:14-15)

Paul says that he's under obligation to pretty much everyone. The word he uses implies debt. Interesting. How does Paul owe a debt that brings him under obligation to others?

John Stott helped me understand. He says that there are two ways to be in debt. One is to borrow money. If I borrow $10,000 from you, then I owe you that money. But there's another way to be in debt: it's for a friend to give me money for you. If that friend gives me $10,000 for you, then I am in debt until I give you that money.

Stott writes:

It is in this second sense that Paul is in debt. He has not borrowed anything from the Romans which he must repay. But Jesus Christ has entrusted him with the gospel for them...

Similarly, we are debtors to the world, even though we are not apostles. If the gospel has come to us (which it has), we have no liberty to keep it to ourselves. Nobody may claim a monopoly of the gospel. Good news is for sharing. We are under obligation to make it known to others...

It is universally regarded as a dishonorable thing to leave a debt unpaid. We should be as eager to discharge our debt as Paul was to discharge his. (The Message of Romans)

I walked down the street the other day, and as I passed people, I thought, "I owe you." I am in debt to every person I meet, and so are you. It's a debt that we owe vertically, but the payment is made horizontally as we share the gospel with others.

There are many motives for evangelism, but I'd never noticed this one before. It's a debt that Paul was ready to pay, and I want to be too.

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Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Equipped to Understand Our Suffering

When I think that I became a pastor at the age of 23, I shake my head. What business did I have presuming to pastor at such a young age? Some may have the gifts or maturity to pastor at such a young age, but I don't think I did.

I didn't know much about suffering. Sure, I'd suffered, but not in a way that would help me understand the tears of a senior burying her husband of 50 years, or the anguish of parents whose son just experienced his first schizophrenic episode. I had the same depth of insight as a music student has when he taps his first song with one finger. I had years of learning and suffering ahead of me.

I don't presume to be mature now, but I've suffered. My sufferings have changed me as a pastor. I can't imagine being entrusted with the care of souls without having suffered, in big and small ways, in the years since I became a pastor. My suffering equips me to understand the suffering of others.

Jesus suffered.

Nobody suffered like Jesus. He suffered throughout his entire life, but he especially suffered in the hours leading to his death. He cried out, alone, to his Father in the garden. He was abandoned, mocked, beaten, and stripped. And then he was killed. He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. Others have suffered, but nobody has suffered like Jesus.

John Stott said it well:

He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of his.

I'm thankful that Jesus suffered. His sufferings accomplished our salvation. They also allow him to understand our suffering. He's equipped to understand our suffering, and I'm thankful.

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Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.