…okay, not really.
Experts make me nervous. Not people who have reached a level of expertise in their field, but more those who have written a book, or built a large church or ministry and begin speaking at conferences teaching people how to do what they do.
I’ve experienced this in fields such as:
Don’t hear me wrong. I’m not saying that I don’t think it is helpful to have people who’ve learned skills or practices, teaching those things to others…that should happen.
My issues come in once the expert begins saying that this method is the way to do whatever the topic might be. “Unless you do this 1 step, you will never raise your budget.” “If you don’t do x, your church will never do whatever it is supposed to do.”
I had a conversation last week with a friend about how he funded his ministry. It was a fascinating story of how God worked in his and his family’s lives. My first thought however was, “I don’t imagine he gets invited to speak at too many fund raising conferences,” because what he did would not a formula that would work for most. And he gets that.
That conversation reminded me of a conversation I had with God about 20 years ago, as we were preparing to church plant in Ithaca. All the coaching and training we’d received about church planting was if we were going to do this, I would need to have hundreds (thousands?) of conversations with people in Ithaca. Just walk up to people in coffee shops, share my vision for the church we were planting and invite them to join us.
I heard stories of
-people who went through the phone book cold calling people,
-went door to door
-talked to people they met in cafes
-hung out in grocery store diaper aisles and handed out parenting class flyers to moms with infants.
Here’s the thing. I’m an introvert. I’m pretty far over on the introvert scale. Walking up to people I don’t know, and starting conversations is not something I enjoy….I could perhaps do one or two, but then I’d need to take a week-long silent retreat to recharge.
So I told God, “I can’t do that. If you want us to plant a church, you are going to need to figure something else out, Because that will not happen.”
This is important…this wasn’t me telling God, “I will not do what I believe you’re telling me to do.” Rather it was, “I cannot do what ‘the experts’ all say I have to do.” You wired me this way, you’re going to have to use who I am…I cannot be who that guy is.
Now it was 1999, and while the internet had been around for a few years, most church web sites were horrible. Flashing Christmas lights, dancing ants and never-ending pages of text were the norm. At least in our city. We lived in a college town, that was quite tech-savvy, and I knew that people moving to Ithaca tended to check AltaVista.com (yes before google) to research the area. Since I knew some basic HTML, I decided that I would learn more and create a church website. It wasn’t great, but it was better than most.
And we began to see a lot of people moving to Ithaca come to our church to at least check it out.
We did annual church surveys and for the first several years, between 65% and 80% of people at our church found us on the internet. That is crazy.
So, it worked…and I didn’t initiate a single conversation with a ‘man on the street’ about our church. (Of course, I also didn’t start speaking on growing your church by learning HTML.)
Here’s the thing…If I thought that I could brush up on my HTML skills and do the same thing here in Dublin that worked at a very different time in a very different place, that would be ridiculous. I did not keep up with current internet technology, and a church with a better than average website is not a big deal anymore.
And while I’m still not all that likely to be striking up conversations with random people in cafes, God has something new in store.
One of my favorite passages in the Bible is one where I think it is easy for us to miss what is happening.
“He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan. )”
2 Kings 18:4 NIV
You may remember the origin of the story. While in the wilderness, the Israelites were being bitten by snakes and dying. God had Moses make a bronze snake, and if you were bitten, you could look at the bronze snake and live. Here is this miraculous means by which God delivers his people. And at some point over the next 800 years or so, it became an object of worship. Rather than worshipping God, they worshipped the method he used at that point in time.
And most of us are like that. If we care enough to do something…we want to do it well. And when and expert comes along with 5 easy steps to certain success, we get drawn in and willingly put our money down.
There are so many drawbacks to this ‘expert of the moment’ method. Key among them is that we end up relying on the expert and their formula rather than taking the time and energy necessary to spend time with God, hear his heart and determine how God wants to use our unique wiring and and unique circumstances to work in and through us.
Whatever it might be that God is putting on your heart to do, don’t simply look for another “method to figure out and master.” Let it be an opportunity to deepen your relationship with him.