By Dick Wiedenheft
Late this past August, my nine-year-old daughter and I were splashing away the cares of the world in the surf of the Outer Banks, NC. The waves were too small to offer much fun, but the water was super-clear. So, we set ourselves to finding interesting shells and rocks to show to ‘Mom’ or anyone else who would condescend for a moment to ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ at our treasures. As I picked up and examined one sea-smoothed shell or stone after another, I was reminded of the well-worn metaphor they embody. Water’s relentless, incessant work can wear down even the most stubborn of rocks and obstacles.
That is the spirit and the perspective it takes to walk the road to missional. For most of us, transitioning a church culture or a life to become missional is not something that can be accomplished in weeks or months.
The milestones on the journey to missional are measured in years.
In The Meaning of Missional, I put it this way:
The changes you are seeking will likely be small at first. They may come slowly. There will be plenty of failures and setbacks along the way. People you invest in will move away, lose interest, and perhaps even betray you. Shifting a culture takes time, patience, and perseverance. Yet, change experts tell us there is a tipping point when the forces aligned for change outnumber the forces aligned against it. The good news is that the percentage at which the balance tips is actually far less than 50 percent! [See Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference]. Think of change as turning a fly-wheel. At first, the wheel is very hard, almost impossible, to turn. With great effort, you can barely get it to budge. As it begins to move, it becomes easier to turn; then, easier still. Once it starts turning, it soon becomes hard to stop. This takes time . . . Do not give up. (p. 88).
How many times have you wanted to quit? When I try to count, I run out of both fingers and toes. What has kept you going along the way? The encouragement of a friend? Something you read or heard that inspired you with renewed hope? A fresh word or impetus from God? I have found that two strategies are indispensable to staying the course:
- Find partners for the journey. These may be people we know or leaders we admire from afar (ideally, both). They are those who fill us with fresh vision, encourage us to keep the goal in sight, or simply share the journey with us so we don’t struggle alone. As the African proverb puts it: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
- Take time to celebrate. Recognizing our small steps of progress along the way does us a world of good. Such celebrations remind us, “Yay, we’re actually moving!” On our family’s recent trip to the Outer Banks, we used the Waze app for the first time to try to beat the beach traffic. What a fun surprise we had when it offered us digital ‘candy’ rewards for our progress as we crept (at times) toward our destination. Likewise, even if our celebrations seem small, or even silly, there’s something about the act of recognizing our progress that encourages us to go on. In our church, one way we celebrate is by telling “unfinished stories” in our worship services about the everyday opportunities we’ve had to reach out to those around us.
The next time you face a major setback or disappointment, feel worn out, or lose hope, remember: “The sea throws rocks together, but time leaves us polished stones.” (U2, “Ordinary Love”). Do not call it quits. The road to missional is a long one, but getting there is too important to give up on.
Dick Wiedenheft is a 3DM frontier leader and has a Doctor of Ministry in Discipleship and Mission from Northern Seminary. He pastors a church in New York where he lives with his wife and four children. His new book The Meaning of Missional: A Beginner’s Guide to Missional Living and the Missional Church is now available.