Saturday, September 12, 2009

Courting Mulberry Street

Posted by Jack

Friends and lovers,

What follows is a "re-post" of some thoughts which appeared on the blog earlier this year, in a post entitled "The Best Laid Plans..."

I am posting these thoughts again, in a shortened form, for 2 reasons.

First, I think it is important that our friends and neighbors understand this aspect of our community development. Second, I have come to realize that some more needs to be said. The other side of this coin can be found in the sister-post entitled "A Little Less Conversation."

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One of the most common questions I get here at the house goes something like this: “What are your plans?”

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Several folks were even pushing me to write a 6 month plan, a 1 year plan, and a 5 year plan for the growth and development of our community.

I don’t fault people for this. I genuinely appreciate their interest in us, and I admire their efforts to make us articulate just what it is we are trying to do.

But the further into this thing I get, the less I am able to answer such questions.

I decided to take a moment and clarify our long term plans, but I found out that it is much harder than it used to be.

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We are going to live here in Springfield and look for ways to be good neighbors. There are certain exercises we take part in as attempts to follow Jesus. We hold certain values and ideas in common and we live each day with these in mind.

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[Rather than collecting data or setting numerical goals] I’ve been comparing this unlikely project of ours to a dating relationship.

Imagine you are on a date with the girl of your dreams (or guy of your dreams if that’s your thing). The two of you just recently met, but it was that clichĂ©d type of love at first sight, where you both have really strong feelings for one another. Imagine the two of you are seated together in a fancy restaurant, listening to soft violin music and gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes through the romantic glow of candle light. You smile at her seductively, pour her a glass of wine, and reach into the breast pocket of your tuxedo.

“My love,” you say as you read from the page in front of you, “you mean the world to me. I love you more than life itself. Now, here is a copy of my 6 month plan, my 1 year plan, and my 5 year plan for this relationship. Here is my list of objectives for dating you, here are the goals we should hold in common, and here is my strategic plan for implementing these initiatives.”

We just don’t operate that way (at least, most of us don’t). The same thing is true for friendships. We don’t make new friends, then hand them a list of goals, do we?

Here at the house, we are not so much seeking to launch a new ministry project; we are simply trying to live out our faith. We are not leading any strategic initiatives; we just want an alternative lifestyle.

The flip side of asking for plans is asking for results. Some folks ask about our plans, but others ask us what we have accomplished. Certain folks have even asked for quantitative data to document our progress. Again, this is admirable… but it gets messy.

Going back to our dating scenario, how would we react if someone asked a young woman to measure the quality of her relationship with her fiancé based on the number of conversations she had with him? Or if she were required to evaluate the success of their relationship on the basis of dinners per month, or date nights per week?

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I am reminded of the old (but amazingly wise) saying, “Jesus does not call us to success; He calls us to faithfulness.” We should be focused on following Jesus, and of course, sometimes that includes some detailed planning. But we must not delude ourselves into believing that we can become a “success” by living up to the rules we invent.

And in the context of relationships, who can say what “success” is anyway? By its very definition, community involves the desires, hopes, dreams, and goals of all the members, not just the chosen few on the planning committee.

I feel like the church at large has bought into the lie that productivity is more important than closeness. I feel like we have begun to value efficiency over authenticity. We’ve allowed ourselves to become satisfied with quantitative goals instead of meaningful interaction, and we’ve convinced ourselves that “real ministry” requires detailed planning, strategizing, and goal setting. We have elevated success over faithfulness and exchanged personal integrity for selfish comparisons.

Jesus never said, “They will know you by your productivity.” But He did say, “They will know you by your love.”

Jesus never said, “Measure your status as a follower in relation to others around you.” But He did say, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”

Jesus never said, “Chart a course and meet me there.” But He did say, “Come follow me.”

Maybe we should be more about taking intentional steps to follow Jesus and less about measuring our progress in relation to others.

Maybe we should be more about looking forward in anticipation and less about looking back in appraisal.

Maybe we should be more about heading in the right direction and less about counting the steps.

Does that mean that we are going to drift along aimlessly with no regard for the manner in which we are walking? Or that we will never aspire to do certain concrete things? Absolutely not. We plan to be very intentional about the lives we lead.

However, any “progress reports” we might generate will be messy and complicated. Because, it’s impossible to quantify relationships. It’s even harder to put an emerging kingdom into numbers. And we’re okay with that.

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