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.

Revitalization

I've been thinking a lot lately about what it's like to be part of revitalizing a church, compared to starting one. Both ministries are needed. We need new churches planted, and we also need to see lots of churches revitalized. The two, by the way, go really well together.

I have the privilege of watching some gifted revitalizers at work in my city. I take off my hat to them, because I know that the work they're doing is both hard and important.

Here's what I wish someone had told me years ago when I first pastored an established church.

Revitalization is hard. Ed Stetzer writes, "Church revitalization does not happen much, but it does happen sometimes. I have been struck by how infrequently it actually occurs" (Planting Missional Churches). Read that over a few times. Thom Rainer says that the most common method of revitalization succeeds only 2% of the time. I wish I'd known that earlier.

The most important issues aren't what you think. The issues go much deeper than updating the worship or making some cosmetic changes. Common issues include spiritual lethargy, dysfunctional patterns of relating, and spiritual pride. Unless you're willing to confront deep issues, and to be unpopular, don't take on this ministry.

Revitalization begins with spiritual renewal. I like what Bill Hogg says: "It’s not about coming up with a plan. The first order of business is to surrender to Jesus. The idea is not to work a plan but to hear from the Lord, and then from dependence upon Him walk in obedience to what he speaks into the life of the church.” Richard Lovelace's Dynamics of Spiritual Life and Jack Miller's Outgrowing the Ingrown Church are great resources here.

You can't do it alone. Just as you can't plant a church alone, you can't lead a church revitalization alone. You need a core group, or as John Kotter calls it, a guiding coalition. These people can be inside the church, or they can come from outside the church, although they would first have to earn trust. You need 10-20% of the church's core engaged in mission and ministry. Never try to lead a revitalization alone.

Look up and outside. Church renewal doesn't happen by pursuing church renewal. It happens by pursuing God and joining him on mission. Get the focus on God and the harvest. Plant a church, or at least partner in doing so; serve the community; lead the church to risk and sacrifice; focus on God and his greatness.

Get your identity from God. If you get your identity from how well the revitalization is going, you will not survive. Get your security from your union with Christ. Go deep into the gospel. The renewal project may fail (see my first point), but the gospel will still be true. Dwell in God's love.

If you've been part of leading a revitalization, I'd love to get your thoughts.

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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.

Three Books on Pastoral Ministry

When I'm asked to recommend books for new pastors, here are three that usually come to mind:

The Imperfect Pastor — I've written about this book before. I think every pastor should read it. Eswine understands the temptations that are common to pastors. We love ministry that's large, fast, and famous. Eswine calls us instead to surrender to doing small, mostly overlooked things over long periods of time. This is a profound and thoughtful piece of pastoral theology.

The New Pastor's Handbook — Jason Helopoulos has written a helpful book for new pastors. It gives clear, practical advice on topics that pastors will face. It's both theological and practical. "Ministry, like baseball, is quite simple," he writes. "It is nothing more than loving Christ, loving his people, and loving the Word...When love for Christ, his people, and his Word dominates our motivations and actions, everything else falls into place." This book gives needed clarity to new and old pastors.

Apostolic Church Planting — Every church needs to be involved in church planting. Apostolic Church Planting is one of the best books out there on birthing churches from the harvest fields. It simplifies church planting, and provides a track for churches of all sizes to get involved. Church planting should be on every pastor's radar, and this book is one I'd highly recommend.

It's hard to pick just three books, but these are a good start.

Comment

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.

Not in Vain

On Sunday night, I locked the doors of our small church plant in Toronto. I held hands with my wife and walked five minutes to our condo, and reflected on the weekend: two family events, one large multi-church Good Friday service, one semi-successful Easter egg hunt for children in the neighborhood, and an encouraging but small Easter service.

As we walked home, I felt a mix of emotions. I felt privileged to be a church planter. I felt immensely grateful for the people who had served that day: the couple that handed out invitations in the freezing rain earlier in the week, the man who moved the outdoor rat trap out of the way for the Easter egg hunt. "You didn't sign up for this," I said. "I signed up," he replied. "I'm ready for anything." I felt grateful for the worship leaders who led us, and for the new people who'd come out to our service.

At the same time, I was aware that we were doing small things. I thought of Zack Eswine's words that I'd read on Good Friday. "We are tempted to do large things famously and fast," he writes, "but...we are vigorously pursing what it means to do small mostly overlooked things over a long period of time."

I am learning the beauty of the type of ministry that Eswine describes. There's nothing big, fast, or successful about church planting, at least the way we're doing it. It's messy, exciting, stressful, slow, fast, frustrating, and fulfilling all at the same time. But it's beautiful.

As I reflected on our ministry the next day, I thought of what Paul wrote to a messy church as he reflected on the resurrection. "Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Paul said to people like me: be all in. Be firm, immovable, and wholehearted in ministry. Hold nothing back. And know that, in light of the resurrection of Jesus, that our ministries matter. Take the resurrection out of the picture, and our ministries add up to nothing. But the resurrection changes the math. Our ministries matter more than we could know, even if they're small, overlooked, and slow. They matter, even though they seem insignificant.

Small and seemingly insignificant ministries are needed. Not only are they needed, but they count, at least when the resurrection is factored in.

3 Comments

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.