5 Factors that can mess with your mind. One | The X Factor
If ministry happened in a closet what was going on in the outside wouldn't matter all that much. Some would certainly argue that we're lacking traction today because we exist in the Baptist, or some other, bubble, and are experiencing the disconnect of a a shrink-wrapped church. Even so, many church and denominational leaders have become frustrated to the point of at least thinking past the survey markers that define our mission base and imagining service in the mean streets. That's when some of the more complex factors of life flash across our screens and start to mess with our heads. And, as the old guy said a generation ago, "...it's hard to beat an enemy who has established an outpost in your head." Tell me it isn't so, Joe!
The X Factor isn't about pop culture's TV preferences, performance idols, or any of the entertainment reality dreamed by moderns. In church life The X Factor is about the unknowns, the unpredictables that mock our planning and forecasting. Underneath The X Factor is a great truth that is the basic therapy for dealing with the uncertainties that keep church leaders tentative, even fearful. It is the simple reality that we humans cannot predict what is going to happen. Unless the future is revealed by God in acts of special revelation we are clueless about day-to-day matters. Beyond what his word guarantees we cannot know what is going to happen in the future. Today, with modern technology, things that are trending, even patterns discernable in the sky, we are out of the loop about even next moments, not to mention long-term forecasting.
The reason The X Factor is so disruptive to church leaders and mission is that planning is our basic futuring strategy. For generations we have taught our leaders the metrics of planning---strategic, tactical, and operation planning, long-range planning, intermediate planning, contingency planning, escape plans, and the value of Plan A, Plan B, and the rest. Recently however, many church watchers have signaled a paradigm shift regarding the futuring elements of church life, notable among them Reggie McNeal, Leonard Sweet, and others. Evidently planning depends on accurate forecasting. Move it to the next level and it's clear that our planning will always be hindered by our inability to predict what is going to happen. In fact, if we get biblical about it, we discover that God has plans and has instructed us to prepare for them.
This is clear in the ministry of Jesus. The baptist came before hand to "...prepare the way of the Lord" (Matthew 3:3). . Jesus taught that his followers must always be prepared, like a bride waiting for the bridegroom to appear, like a homeowner prepared for a thief, like a man who went on a journey and entrusted his belongings to servants, like men who are alert when danger comes, like one who is ready to open the door when the master knocks, and more. Preparedness is a kingdom value. In the Epistles there is great instruction about being prepared to give the reason for the hope in us, remaining alert about the times, being watchful of world movement and things of kingdom significance, of being ready for opportunity that is presented, eager to step through new doors when others close.
Making this shift is difficult in a culture that is fixed on human systems! And, of course, most of us will concede that planning, usually obsessive compulsive in nature, is a ruling device that keeps many congregations from hearing or doing God's directed mission. In fact, most churches, and the denominational entities that serve them, are governed by documents that all but prohibit free movement outside the parameters of a mandated plan. There are times and dates and events and structures in which mission must take place. Because something is in the plan, it becomes the immovable concrete of mission.
I remember one obvious example. The church by-laws specified that the new church budget must be approved on the second Sunday evening in December. In the meantime, the church had developed a strong children's music ministry and the leaders, mostly new to the church, planned the annual children's musical presentation on that night, approved by the church office. It was promoted before anyone noticed the schedule oops. So, the worship center was filled with grandparents, neighbors, family and friends for the children's program and then got to see the right fist of fellowship as church members debated the dollars and cents of church business. But, the by-laws required that date and the movers and shakers said it couldn't be shifted. It was the plan.
The preparation model means that we are prepared for any eventuality. It doesn't alleviate planning or make everything happening in the church a matter of whims, moods, or dice. Being prepared recognizes several important spiritual truths---that God has plans for us, that his plans always prevail, that he invites us to participate in his plans, and that we should always be prepared when he presents opportunities for us to serve. In this way, The X Factor, the influence of the unknowns in life, loses its impact, and we are not continuously blown off course.
It's true that The X Factor messes with our heads. It happens for a couple of reasons---
(1) When The X Factor comes calling we usually become more diligent in trying to anticipate what is going ot happen next. The energy and resources that we invest in Plan A are most often re-assigned to Plan B, with even greater gusto and calculation.
(2) Many church leaders and pastors are tentative in ministry and mission work because they have been burned by the unpredictable. You know, its the "once burned, twice shy" thing, or the way we moderns define "insanity".
(3) Most of us are in denial about how obsessive we are about planning. Most church staff meetings, leadership councils, team leader meetings, right on through the organization are about scheduling, budgeting, recruiting, deployment, and marketing what we're doing. Rarely are we listening, praying, or going past the to-do list to discover where God is working and where we should join him.
(4) Sometimes mission is hindered because we cannot anticipate some things, and therefore cannot plot every movement required to achieve the mission goals. Incredibly, there is little room for flexibility in church pursuits, like everything is carved by the hand of God in stone. I love reading the account of Paul and Timothy as they heard the Macedonian call and altered their plans to go with God. In many instances, church leaders can't alter their plans and therefore sometimes don't go with God.
(5) Being prepared is a means of remaining like clay in God's hands till he gives us direction about our ministry. Sadly, our plans often get in the way of his plans. When we are prepared, we are already anticipating his plan.
The X Factor is about the events, trends, people, activities, resources and other tangibles that we just cannot envision or foresee. They can quickly mess with our minds, and just as rapidly with our mission.
Jesus told his disciples how to deal with The X Factor. Let me call it The Jesus Factor. He said, "Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Your heart must not be troubled or fearful" (John 14:27).
Ahh...The Jesus Factor is peace!