I Wonder As I Wander

“Our greatest fear should not be of failure… but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.” Francis Chan

I was thirty-three years old and I was moving from Washington, Pennsylvania to Venice, Florida.  I was starting a new ministry as the pastor of First Christian Church.  It was a struggling little church of twenty-five people that had made a sweet deal with a developer.  They had traded their land and their “fixer-upper” church building for another piece of land across town and enough money to build a brand new building.  Oh, and did I say that the church was located on the west coast of Florida where the sun is always shining and the beaches are always beautiful?

I had a mantra that God had placed on my heart as my personal vision statement for ministry:  “One Church, Long Term, Big.”  Which I, of course, translated as First Christian was going to be my ministry for my entire career and that the church was going to be huge.  Lots of people, lots of programs, lots of money.  Well, one year into this new ministry we were still a struggling little church of about thirty-five people.  Our building was delayed by contractor bankruptcy, contractor death and other bureaucratic red tape.  In fact, it took another year, an additional building loan and a dedicated member of the church to serve as the project manager, for free, in order to finish the building.

Remembering my personal ministry vision statement mantra, I was sure that with our new building I would start to see a flood of people, programs and money.  Well, another year went by and we had grown into a church of about one hundred, but I operated with a heavy sense of both urgency and resignation.  For I didn’t understand why we weren’t bursting at the seems with people, programs and money.  But whatever the reason, this reality must have been my fault.

Thus, you guessed it, my ministry became obsessed with numbers – people, programs and money.  Over the next twelve years the church did  grow.  Our budget grew, we added staff, we tore out walls to increase our space, we added program after program and we had hundreds of people who called First Christian home.  Yet, even though the numbers had grown I still had a heavy sense of urgency and resignation, just as I had way back when we were twenty-five members.  Something was missing, I needed something, but I didn’t know what.

Don’t get me wrong, First Christian was and is a very good church.  I was blessed to be the pastor there for fourteen years and I, to this very day, still have good friends from that congregation.  But now, some twenty one years later, I wonder how things would have been different if I hadn’t majored in the stuff that didn’t really matter – people, programs and money?  I know that none of us can shoulda, coulda or woulda ourselves into a different past.  But I know that I did succeed at things that didn’t really matter.  It only took leaving ministry for three years, to teach middle school history, in order for me to learn this lesson.  My ministry today is totally different than what it was twenty one years ago.  My new personal vision statement for ministry mantra is: “Major In The Stuff That Really Matters.”