Persisting readers of my blog might recall how I've written occasionally about the struggles we have faced in launching, planting, and growing imagine/Northampton. We came here almost six years ago with strong faith, high hopes, but modest financial resources. We were all true amateurs at the outset with substantial ministry experience, but not as church planters. In trying to record my experience I would mention the financial and ministry challenges we experienced after the first year: much of it having to do with being a small church persistently under-resourced. It's not that people didn't give; they did and they do, but it's never covered what we needed, especially in terms of our salaries.
Recently, as some of you became aware, we reached a crisis at the end of last year, and God supplied wonderfully. What we didn't know, but soon were made aware is we owed more to our landlord. At first, the news felt a blow to the head coming out of nowhere. We thought we'd caught up only to find we were still in the hole. For a couple of days we were really confused and discouraged - shell-shocked actually. What did this mean? How come we were unaware of falling behind? Why didn't our landlord say anything before? We felt pretty forlorn, salted liberally with embarrassment and shame.
As we tried to get our bearings, and process what to do, Tricia remembered God had told her in prayer, early in January, we were to prepare for a battle and not be passive. She was not sure what the battle was beyond the spiritual scraps we've learned to fight regularly since coming up from Simsbury. Then a few weeks ago, someone who's a part of imagine, when I told the story, noted God wanted to tell me something, but this person had no idea of the context at first. She received from God I was to "stick with it." Both of those warnings bolstered us to leave the pity party early and take action.
First, we let the Board know we needed help to tackle head on what has become a frustrating problem and an unexpected setback A couple weeks prior we sat down with two of them and laid out the numbers. They asked about where our hearts were regarding imagine, and where we wanted to head, or if we still had passion for this mission, given the struggle it's been. These folks care for us and have for a long time. We processed those questions honestly looking at fatigue, the effects of discouragement, and what we wanted to do, if anything, to address and change the situation. The process was helpful, even encouraging. We looked at hard questions, including changing our direction personally.
Once we prayed (praying has been taking our center stage for a while now), we asked one member of the Board to look closely at the numbers, ours and imagine's to come up with an effective budget. He's really good at that stuff. It's important to note here when we gave the Board members an income and expenses sheet, they were encouraging in that, while there were clear problems to solve, it was not a disaster. They needed to be addressed, but abandoning ship wasn't a foregone conclusion. I can't tell you how relieved we were to have the prayer and practical support these Board folks brought. We didn't feel so alone and overwhelmed. The long and the short of it is we'll have a budget strategy which accurately reflects and addresses the financial state of the church. A good first step; one we should have secured in place long ago.
Another step we're taking is to engage imagine folks about who we are and where we see God leading us together. We've started letting them know we're in this process and have persisting financial challenges which affect focus and effort. In a few weeks, we'll have a dialogue about vision, calling and strategy with everyone in the church. We want them to contribute because they are imagine/Northampton, not they go to imagine/Northampton. We want the collective wisdom from people listening to God as one people, praying and seeking how we can best fulfill our work of helping anyone discover and follow the God who is more than they imagine. While the path ahead might not be easy, it will be shared. Some of the Board will be there as well.
It's equally clear to me I must find ways to make more money to support our household. We and others in the church have been praying for a number of months I'd have more paying clients for counseling and spiritual direction. I want to take some of that burden off Tricia who's struggling with burnout. Also, I'd especially like to re-ignite my PLAYMAKER Profile of Motivational Gifts work. One of the Board members is encouraging me to revisit the opportunity, and get more focused on building that part of what I've offered the past 30 years. He has business acumen. I could use a generous dollop of that to work smarter. I'm also looking to do more retreats and perhaps speaking opportunities.
Then, as these past few weeks have unfolded, I've been told twice in one week to contact a foundation which supports churches in New England with different approaches to being church and being missional. The two people who brought it up without prompting from me said virtually the same thing a few days apart. I need to listen to their counsel also, and follow through. I will be doing so after a discernment process of what to ask for and why. Yesterday someone asked if I'd be willing to ask larger churches to help; that's on the table too.
To sum up, our fresh wave of adversity since mid-January has served to prompt us and imagine to consider re-tooling. I like the word "re-tool." It captures the notion of making changes to improve effectiveness or desired ends. No one's talking about completely throwing out all we've done and been as imagine. However, it does mean wisely discerning what our problems are insinuating so we might make necessary adjustments for the future. In a way, everything's on the table including the vision of where we seek to be, and how we have to get there in light of what God wants, and why He's gotten us this far.
Adversity is an adroit teacher, yet an often-unwelcome opportunity to mature spiritually, relationally or professionally. It calls out courage, wisdom, flexibility, humility and endurance. Dug-in adversity rarely feels good, but yields much good, often unexpectedly, which can result by yielding to its, "I ain't going away until you ..." challenge. I've noticed too, God uses adversity, even suffering to gradually turn a spiritually surficial and juvenile faith into one of grit, unforeseen resourcefulness ... even joy. In a good way, adversity has the power to poke and re-poke slumbering hearts to create a faith which holds on while staying a gaze on Christ, the One who went through horrific adversity to defeat death and make creation new.
Re-tooling is just common sense when the way one is going does not work or works ineffectively requiring change - even for churches. Re-tooling is working smart as God's reality warrants it. Unseen or developed opportunities come into view and potential beckons. We don't throw out the baby with the bathwater, rather we give the baby more nourishment and room to grow, with better care based on what must be done to help it thrive. If the effort is stumbling; it's stumbling forward; gaining ground as we learn and mature, even if by inches sometimes.Wisdom says we re-tool until God's picture comes in view, and whenever change is necessary to stay His course.
I don't know where the hard work we're doing now will take us, but like faraway stars on a hazy night, opportunities appear faintly twinkling now. We just need to head-out for them; letting our Captain get us there.