Friday, July 25, 2014

Fail by J R Briggs

'[As pastors] we are unnecessary to what congregations insist that we must do and be: as experts who help  them stay ahead of the competition. Congregations want pastors who will lead them in the world of religious competition and provide a safe alternative to the world's ways......They want a pastor they can follow so they won't have to bother following Jesus anymore.....[Don't forget] everything depends on God, so we are unnecessary. God never-theless uses us, so let us each and together rediscover our call'

Eugene Peterson and Marva Dawn
The Unnecessary Pastor

'Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don't really matter'

Francis Chan, Crazy Love

Fail is not a word most of us want to hear. We live in a success culture almost from the age we can speak living lives of quiet and subtle comparison. Sadly, this is not just about kids exams results, size of houses, cars, careers and who we know. When I gave up my business career, I thought that driven-ness, comparing, sparing and the pursuit of things that don't ultimately matter were all behind me.  Unfortunately, there were a whole new set of markers and measures that, if I was not careful, I could live under and gradually sprinkle my insignificance with. Live under this new stuff though and it's absolutely deadly.

I came across J R Briggs through his blog. After discovering it, I spent the next couple of months dipping into all his back posts and links which so encouraged and resourced me and were incredibly timely as I planned our plant. It's funny how you can have such empathy with someone you don't know. If we were ever to hook up for a coffee I'm sure we would have plenty to share and laugh about. I like him for many reasons, not least because he loves Eugene Peterson. He also started something called 'The Epic Fail Pastors Conference'.

'Fail' is the sort of book that people in my tribe would tend to avoid. There is an attitude in 'Driven-Vicar world', which I have to admit is slightly in my DNA, that doesn't do words like failure, smaller, lesser, down, struggle or, heaven forbid, a phrase like 'giving-up'. 

Let's be honest, no one, unless they are weird, sets out to fail. However, the truth is that I have probably learnt most over my 25 years of following Jesus from being in and involved with 'unsuccessful' and non-glitzy or 'failing' churches and endeavours. One was a traditional Anglican church in Moscow, the other was a tiny church plant on an estate that never grew to more than 20 people (at least in the time I was with it) and my final learning leap happened in a small and, at the time, struggling church in Canada lead by a dear mentor and friend.

We started this church plant here with 20 people. No children's groups, no shiny worship band,  no jazzy website and a borrowed PA. I am so grateful to the folk who joined us and risked leaving the safety of their bigger churches and all they provided for them and their families. We are still small, and for all I know, we might remain so and I may yet 'fail' -though I hope and pray not. The trick I am working out is not to put ourselves under pressure to be like or bigger or better than anyone else. We are who God makes us to be, and I am who I am and we're a local church seeking to love God and to love each other (the funny mixed band of people that we are). It's all very releasing and long may it remain so.

These stats are quoted at the beginning of the book and tell a rather depressing story about Pastors. These are American stats but they are not terribly different here in the UK, so my pal tells me. They are well worth mulling on. This book is for you if:

  • You have ducked out of some form of church leadership hurt or disappointed
  • You have been let down by others
  • You're in danger of burning out
  • You feel you've failed God in some way
  • You don't take a sabbath
  • You seek to be recognised by particular people or institutions
  • You've set your heart on 'promotion' (a drop of purple or an archdeaconry perhaps or being the Vicar of one of those 'big' or 'important' churches?)
  • You don't have a mentor
  • You lead something and you are ignoring your personal relationship and time with Jesus
  • You are not caring for your body or soul
  • You're addicted to work, porn, drink or growing your church
  • You don't meet with other pastors to support you
  • You don't go on retreat
  • You don't have a small prayer group
  • You think this book is the sort of book you will never need to read or doesn't apply to you. You need to read it the most urgently of anyone. 
If you read one chapter make it 'Rhythms' which is the 'how to avoid burnout' checklist and I found it encouraging. Apparently, I am already doing quite a few of the things J R recommends. He has a great 'Recommended Reading' appendix too and all in all this book is a treasure trove of wisdom and blessing. The wonderful irony about the book and the career of JR is that it will now be an absolutely roaring success. Perhaps that's what God had in mind all along?

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