What feels worse than failing

My wife and I worked at the same job for 11 years. We were fortunate in that it was more than just a job. It was something we both considered called to do. It wasn’t just a job, rather a cause we felt honored to help be a part of in fulfilling. The cause you might ask was to enhance, excite and equip people in evangelism through the most effective form of evangelism ‘church planting’.

That chapter in our lives has now closed… not the church planting chapter… but the paid job chapter.

It has been a while since that change has occurred but it has affected us ways I never would have thought possible. Truthfully I am not the person I was… some would say that is a good thing… and those people are probably right. Regardless, I feel defeated. I feel as though I have nothing to offer. This isn’t a pity party. I am just accepting that is how I feel and I am doing my best to build a bridge and get over it 🙂

However, one thought has dogged me since the change came about: what could I have done different? What could I have done different when I saw the writing start to appear on the wall, even as far back as several years before it finally happened. Yes I have accepted all the changes which have taken place as a result of the change. After all there is nothing which can be done. Earlier on in the experience I kept on asking, should we have spoken up when we observed the original vision drift? Should we have just left at that point (years earlier)? I wonder if we had done something earlier or different, would we find ourselves in the position we are now? At first these questions of ‘could we have done something’ are more painful than that of ‘having failed’, but now it is neck and neck 🙂

I know my experience is nothing new. Associate Pastor’s struggle all the time with shifting visions of Senior Pastor’s. I suppose Senior Pastor’s struggle with the shifting vision of leadership teams. One moment an associate pastor is happily fulfilling the vision set out by the senior pastor and the next moment a change of direction is ordered. Generally it ends up with a ‘my way or the highway’, of course we put a christian spin on it and talk about it in terms of “God is calling ‘insert your name here’ to something new”. Sometimes I think we become so good at putting a ‘Christian spin’ on things that we can get away with just about anything!

For those of you in leadership, leadership is not just a job, it is one of the ways in which our passion is expressed in working towards the vision we are set towards, and when a vision change from those who are above us comes down to us it feels like we are being smacked in the head by a soccer ball. But when we hear the ‘Christian spin’ being applied to it, it is like being thrown into a dark pit not knowing where to go while being hit in head repeatedly by a soccer ball.

What do you do in leadership when those in charge, those who are calling the shots which govern how you serve… suddenly change direction, move the goal post in reach you are striving for? What do you do when you are not as certain of this new goal?

I have heard associate pastors say that bible colleges need to have a course just for them on “how to deal with senior pastors who have a different vision’, or ‘what to do when the senior pastor has one of those ‘change of directions’ they often have, and you don’t”.

Personally I prefer to be part of a community which does not have a senior pastor, associate pastor model. But I can understand why some do… no actually I can’t understand, but each to his/her own I guess.

How do we act? How do we continue? When we find we are serving someone’s else vision? It is a big question because serving someone’s else vision is not all bad! In fact it is something I think we should all be doing within leadership. To be a true leader you need to be a true servant. I want to serve and help others achieve their vision. I want to be involved in other people’s lives, when they achieve a vision that is God appointed and is bigger than what they think they can achieve on their own!

But that last paragraph contained a real kicker… ‘God appointed’. We all want to serve in a vision even if it isn’t our own, as long as it is God’s… right?

What happens when you aren’t sure the vision you are serving is God’s?

I’m no expert but over the years I have developed a simple test to determine if it is or not. I ask myself several questions:

  1. Who benefits from achieving the vision? More so, is it focused on extending His Kingdom (does it move people regardless of where they stand with God closer to Him)?
  2. Is it impossible or at least unlikely to be achieved by one’s own means?
  3. Is someone else already doing it?

If the person who is being benefited, is not seeking personal fame and fortune then it passes at least in part question 1 (not all).

If the vision is simply to make church/christian life easier or better, in other words if the vision is church-centred than it fails question 1. Vision must always consider the outsider as more important than self.

Now for question 2, any vision, if it comes from God, should be so unbelievable, so crazy that it could come from no other being, no one other than a God who does the impossible! If I can do it on my own, well then it is not for me.

Lastly, question 3 if someone else is doing it, go help them. No need to do it all yourself. Think of the encouragement you could bring to those who are already giving everything they have to achieve the vision.

That is the Dean Thomas test for vision. I know it is full of danger and could cause mayhem within many existing churches and organizations, but in my mind that is just how it is. It is probably why my days of ever being asked to be involved in mainstream church leadership are now long gone.

So applying that test I should have spoken up earlier or I should have left earlier. I feel confident that I did at least at a staff level and that is all I need to do, anything else would have been like dobbing on a sibling! So I should have gone earlier… There I said it… I feel better!

If you are thinking “I should have gone earlier’ well the chances are you should have gone earlier!

Now the challenge we all face when we leave something  which you feel is not yet completed. What do we do? Do we do our best to walk away from the vision? Do we look for a new vision? Do we look for a new expression of that vision?

Personally I like option one! But I know that is the naughty Dean speaking! That naughty Dean is a very bad boy! It is so much easier just to walk away and say ‘yep, I’m done. I did what God wanted and that’s it’… But I can’t nor should anyone who has tasted God’s vision because that vision should consume you, it is expressed in every action one takes. If it truly was God’s plan you can’t just stop it!

That leads into option two ‘look for a new vision’. Unlikely, to me it feels like looking for another partner outside of marriage! That can’t be right! That can never be a good thing!

The third and only option, ‘look for a new expression of the vision’. I should be able to say with confidence that no matter what we do it will be an expression of the vision. It just will look different. I could be driving a truck, repairing a motorcycle, fixing a computer. That vision is always there, I just need to be able to make those things work towards the goal of that vision.

My advice to anyone who is leaving a place in which a vision is not being served and it is still your vision. Don’t give up on it. Keep doing it. It may feel like a let down. You may feel as though you have failed. It may feel as though you weren’t given a fair voice. But don’t let those things get in the way of doing exactly what you were and still called to do and or become. You can still be that person but the way you thought it would look has changed! Honestly while I am scared of what will happen… I’m excited because God is calling us to do something which is a different expression of the same vision, and hopefully this time the results will speak much more louder for the positives!

But God why aren’t the results more positive… but that is for another time!



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