I know, I know. You’re busy. You don’t have time to start something new.
You’ve got no shortage of things to do–people to influence, teachings to prep, and to-do lists to tackle. Our lives as leaders are full and we often function with little margin. To be sure, many of us need to get better at saying “no” and not jumping at every opportunity that presents itself, but at the same time, I’m convinced that there’s a temptation that operates in many of us as planters– the temptation of not starting.
This year has likely been the busiest of my life–our region is growing and opportunities abound for fruitful ministry on our current campuses. But we’ve committed ourselves to becoming a planting movement, and so as a way to kick-off the Fall, it felt important for me to prioritize an opportunity to start something on a new campus.
Starting Something New at DMACC
To be honest, I wasn’t filled with faith as I drove to DMACC. I assumed we would talk with some folks, pray, and maybe meet an interested person or two, but that the time would be more symbolic than anything–I didn’t really expect anything lasting to come from our visit.
After spending some time praying around the campus, Mandy and I went to the union to meet up with our existing contacts. Most of that meeting was painfully uneventful–they were only marginally interested in seeing something new start on campus–but something changed when the student saw one of her friends walking by.
She invited her friend to join us, and the conversation gained momentum quickly–before long, we were sharing vision for the campus and asking if this student would be interested in starting something new. She responded with an exuberant, “Yes, I’m definitely interested, and actually, I tend to start new things all the time!” Only two weeks later, Mandy shared this story:
“On my way to campus I kept encountering the number “5” so I made note to keep an eye out for signs of 5 on campus. Erin, Amber, and I met in the cafeteria to discuss what would best serve the needs of the community, and Amber invited her friend Kim to join us. We talked, read scripture, and prayed for one another. After an hour Amber and Kim had to leave for class, but Kim’s friend Krista joined the table after finding out her class was cancelled, at which point Erin asks if she can tell us more about her life. As Erin is vulnerably sharing her testimony with us, another guy named Jim approaches the table. Jim overheard Erin sharing and wanted to sit in on the conversation. He has a similar background and is seeking Christian community on campus! At this point I’m wondering if I should stand on a chair and invite the whole room into our discussion, but I refrain. Why? Amber, Erin, Kim, Krista, and Jim… 5 students. I believe these were the 5 God was prompting me about as I approached campus.”
Fireworks? No. But one step at a time, Jesus is starting something new at DMACC!
John 4: Look at the Fields
In John 4, while his disciples are trying to find something to eat in town, Jesus transforms a Samaritan woman who will soon become a transforming presence for her entire village. Upon their return, he tells his disciples,
“Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.”
The irony of this story is profound. Here, on a missionary journey through Samaria with Jesus, the disciples assume that the harvest is not at hand and surely isn’t plentiful–all they are interested in bringing back from the town is lunch. But the woman sees something very different. In response to her encounter with the Messiah, she brings back the entire town–she believes the truth of Jesus’ words that this field is ripe with harvest, and that she could play a role in reaping some of that harvest!
As our staff have walked the hard road of trying to catalyze a planting movement on the campuses of the Central US, we’ve had to confront a key temptation over and over again–the temptation of not starting.
A Few Assumptions We Make
I’m convinced this temptation is bound up with a few assumptions that need to be reoriented by the words of Jesus, lest they become excuses for our lack of engagement in new places.
- We assume, in direct contradiction to Jesus’ words in Luke 10, that the harvest is scarce and the workers are plentiful. Perhaps we should use more discretion before we label people or neighborhoods as “hard ground”?
- We assume, like the disciples in John 4, that it’s not harvest time now–maybe in a year or two, but certainly not now– “they’re probably not ready”.
- We fail to recognize that there are resources in the harvest, for the harvest– often it’s genuinely impossible for us to sustain a new work on our own, but in John 4, Jesus demonstrates that the harvest supplies the workers needed!
So, instead of dismissing the possibility of engaging a new neighborhood, campus, or city with excuses about our level of busyness or an assumed gap of receptivity, let me suggest an alternative: find a way to show up and see what happens. Don’t worry about having a five step plan for long-term sustainable ministry, or let your uncertainty about whether you can finish the race keep you from taking the first step. As APE planters, we must operate in dependence on God–we only do what we see him doing–but often, we won’t see what he’s doing in a place until we show up and take at least a first step of exploration asking “Jesus, what are you doing in this place?” and “How can I join you?”
As leaders, we will always be busy, and we’ll likely never have enough time that we’ll “just happen” to find our way into new neighborhoods–we must believe Jesus’ promises about the harvest and confront the temptation of not starting, by simply showing up with eyes open for what God is doing!
So, what about you? Is there a people group/location you’ve been meaning to visit for a while, but haven’t gotten around to it that you need to prioritize? What keeps you from taking the risk of showing up?