Last week, while at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D. C., I took this photo of the Bell X-1. If you know your history, this was the first plane to break the sound barrier. Chuck Yeager surpassed the Mach 1 speed in October 1947, and will always be remembered as the first man to accomplish this great task.
While we gaze at this craft, now hanging in the Smithsonian, we recall that significant day. However, there is a story behind the event that we often do not consider. Yet, this story was necessary before the barrier could be overcome.
For years, many people believed that the sound barrier could not be broken. For years, many aircraft broke apart as they approached such high speeds. Numerous attempts occurred, countless hours spent, and enormous costs were made which finally resulted in the accomplishment of the desired goal.
The scientists, engineers, and test pilots needed this story before they could tell Yeager’s story.
But, we don’t hear or remember those stories. We want the highly exceptional.
Unfortunately, the Church often follows a similar path when it comes to telling our stories. We like to share the stories that reveal the “thrill of victory” but we often fail to tell those that reveal the “agony of defeat”. We create a culture that is opposed to hearing the “unsuccessful” stories (which, ironically, are often successful when measured by the Kingdom standard), fooling ourselves into believing that such is a practice of wise stewards.
Whenever we do share, we often take a long time before we tell our stories. For example, a church planter arrives on the field, uses a multitude of methods, finds some that work, and writes a book telling what resulted in the planting of the church. Or, consider another example. A pastor works for years, trying to reach people with the gospel, teach them the ways of Jesus, and raise them up to become missionaries. He tries many things over the years, most of them do not work so well. Finally, he compiles all that has worked and hits the speaking circuit, sharing what has been effective–and eventually writing down his story of success.
The time spent between the date we hit the field and the date we begin telling our stories, is too long. We must compress time. We start telling our stories too late in the game. By the time we begin to share with others what “worked,” society and the contextual realities have often shifted. Of course, the Church begins hearing such wonderful accounts and immediately begins to apply what was learned. . . 5-15 years after the fact.
Just consider the trends in the church planting world today. We’ve heard the wonderful and exceptional stories. People are now getting excited and moving to the field, applying methods that worked well in the 1980s and early 1990s. Time (and cultures) has moved on.
We must compress this time. We must begin to communicate our stories NOW–BOTH what is working well and what is not working so well. And in order to make this shift a reality, we must overcome two problematic mindsets today:
We Can Learn Nothing from the Inexperienced.
This approach stems from an arrogant attitude. It advocates that BOTH the novice missionary on the field has nothing to contribute AND the pioneer testing new methodologies and/or laboring among unengaged peoples has nothing to share until the real “results” happen. “Don’t talk to me, until you have something significant to talk about,” is an expression that summarizes this mindset.
If someone is only one step ahead of someone else in the process of making disciples, then they have at least one thing to teach those who follow. Sometimes they can teach them what to do; sometimes they can teach them what to avoid. But, above all else, they can teach something.
Tell Me What Works
While we all desire to know what is working to make disciples, raise up leaders, and plant churches, usually this statement comes deeply from the realm of pragmatism. While Kingdom Citizens are to be pragmatic (We’ve been commanded to bear fruit.), we are not to follow the way of pragmatism. Among other theological and missiological problems, this mindset fails to understand that all methods and strategies are: 1) birthed at specific times and in specific contexts; and 2) developed by leaders with their own set of gifts, passions, talents, etc.. We have a history of uncritically taking “what works” in one part of the country and forcing it into another location. The results are often non-contextualized churches and leaders. We need to be more discerning, and understand what is working well and what is not working so well.
Here are some guidelines to compress time:
Overcome Your Inferiority Complex
Some of us are afraid to share because for years people have told us, “You can’t…” or “You have not arrived yet…” or “You have not earned the right to share…” and we have come to believe them. Such is poor stewardship on our behalf. Some of us feel inferior because we have seen the great things that others have been blessed to accomplish, and we feel that we have nothing to contribute with our two mites. For some of us, we need to repent and rest in Christ as the only One whom we are to please. Overcoming this obstacle is necessary for us to compress time.
Don’t Wait, Share Today’s Stories
This does not mean that you have to share great details, but tell us something. . . and tell us now. We need to learn from you. As wise stewards, we cannot wait around, thinking that maybe we’ll have something to share tomorrow. Today is the day for sharing! Start talking. Start blogging. Start tweeting. Start publishing. Get your experiences out there!
We don’t have time to wait around until the desired outcomes occur before we start talking, sharing, and writing about our experiences. We need to know what is working AND not working. Of course, we need to know what is working quickly, but we also need to know what is gradually working, with progress being measured inch-by-inch.
Our Father is always at work; we need to realize this fact and stop giving glory to God only when He does what we desire! He is worthy of our glory when He fails to fulfill our strategies.
We must not think more highly of ourselves than according to the faith that has been given to us. We should not make ourselves out to be something we are not. Even when it comes to sharing our struggles from the field, we must remain humble. For it is possible to become arrogant even when we are not experiencing the results we desire.
Give God the Glory
Remain a Learner
Along with humility comes the heart of a learner. On this side of heaven, we must never believe that we have “arrived”. We must learn from others. Learn from our mistakes. Learn from slow growth. Learn from rapid multiplication. Remember, we are students on the field.
Don’t wait around to break the sound barrier before you start sharing. That is likely to take too much time. We need to know why your jet is shaped like a .50 caliber bullet. Why are you using super-thin wings and an adjustable horizontal stabilizer? We need to know why your last attempt resulted in the pilot ejecting out before a crash. We need to know why you decided to change your fuel mixture? We need to know why you decided that it was best to attempt such a feat over the Mojave Desert?
Rather than waiting years to tell one side of your story in reaching the nations, will you compress time to advance the gospel? We need to learn from you.
4 billion lost souls live today. We don’t have time to wait for you to tell us now how you broke the sound barrier years ago.