Church planting is hard work. Honestly, it’s some of the hardest work I’ve ever done. While there are amazing things to celebrate and lessons learned, I also want to share some of the more frustrating moments.
If you read church planting books, especially ones from the evangelical world (and most church planting books are from the evangelical world) they paint a rosy picture of churches who launch with hundreds (or thousands) of people in attendance, who have major financial backing from a denomination or other church, who maybe hit a plateau sometime in their first year but still have an attendance of 500. And you begin to think that even though you don’t have those resources (no financial backing, no core group of 100 that came from your mother church, etc.) that you can still work the program and all will be well.
Two weeks ago we had to cancel our Gathering Mass. We have a core group of six folks and for one reason or another four of them couldn’t make it. I showed up early, like I do, and started setting up the sanctuary not knowing if anyone was going to show. I had prepared as if we would have a crowd, written a homily, was ready to go. And just one couple showed up. Now, that couple and I had a lovely evening. We spent time talking about how to get the word out about our new community and then we went out to dinner. It was fellowship and it was community building. But at the end of the day it was still a cancelled Gathering Mass.
I try to see that evening as a momentary setback. I see it as a kick in the ass to get out of my comfort zone and do more networking. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a little bit frustrating.
It’s frustrating because I so believe in what we are doing. I believe that people want and need what we’re offering. I believe that if folks would show up they would stay. I believe that people are desperate for the kind of community that we’re providing if only they knew we existed.
It’s frustrating because I believe in the Jesus story, I treasure the beauty of the Catholic tradition, and I believe church can be a powerful force for change both in people’s personal lives and the world.
And it’s also frustrating because it’s a blow to my ego. Yup. And ouch. I hate having to admit that. I hate having to admit that I have an ego and that it comes out in the midst of such a holy endeavor. But it does. I want this place to succeed for a lot of really amazing reasons and also for some selfish ones. I’m not proud of those selfish reasons, but they are there. On good days they fall to the bottom of the list, but even on good days I struggle. It doesn’t help that those selfish reasons are all tied up with the good reasons.
I share all of this because I think it’s probably pretty common, but it’s not something I hear spoken about very much. I think those of us who are trying to do new things in the midst of people who are resisting change are especially vulnerable to these bouts of ego. Partly it’s because we are so damn passionate and also really desperate (I’m going to write more about this passion and desperation soon) to make these things happen. And, honestly, you have to be a little bit stubborn to even do something new. That’s not excusing this attitude, but maybe serving as a warning: We who do this kind of work have to be extra careful to keep our egos in check.
So this frustrating night, this ego blow, was a good thing. A good reminder that this isn’t my church to build, it’s God’s (and I know, I know, that’s trite), a good reminder that this work isn’t about me, and a good reminder that I need to pray more. It’s also a good kick in the ass to get out of my comfort zone, to keep finding new ways to talk about the vision and mission of our community to get other folks fired up to invite people, and to be patient with the process.
I don’t know what’s in store for our community, but I do know that God is using this experience to change, stretch, and grow me both as a person and as a priest. And I’m thankful for that, even in the midst of the frustration and the struggle.