So as you may have surmised from my post earlier this week, I went through a great season for soul searching earlier this year. I asked a question that can be traced back in some form or fashion to St. John Of The Cross, namely:
What can you not not do?
In other words, if–heaven forbid–you found out you had a week left to live, what would remain on your to-do list after you crossed out everything you could “not do”, if you catch my meaning?
More precisely for folks in our nonprofit neck of the woods:
Where does your passion, your gifting, your very wiring, intersect with your organization and its mission?
Let me share a chapter from my story and then ask you a question about the chapter of your own story that you’re presently in:
In 1992, I moved to Indianapolis to be assigned to my second pastorate at a church that was slated by my denomination to be closed. I was supposed to be the last pastor. The one to come in and turn out the lights. The average age of the congregation—no joke—was 75. Attendance was no more than 25 every week. The building was leaking, creaking, and falling down.
The only problem was, those 25 old folks were the stubbornest people I’ve ever met. They had no interest in closing down and considered the idea completely objectionable. In the face of mountains of common sense and evidence to the contrary, they still believed in that place and had no intention of locking the doors for good.
Problem was, they had no idea how to turn things around.
Other problem was, neither did I. On the face of it, there didn’t seem to be much of a good reason for them to continue. There were other churches, better churches nearby. The building was literally unsalvageable. One visit from the city, should they have ever cared enough to darken that part of the city of Indianapolis, which they never did.
So why keep going?
I begin to research the history of that church for some kind of answer, really more out of desperation than anything. Turns out, it was once a great church—a huge church. A vibrant church. 900 kids in Sunday School alone. It was the axis on which the whole neighborhood of Woodside turned.
And that, it turned out, was just the issue.
There was no Woodside neighborhood anymore. Or so the city said, anyway. Honest to God truth, on the city map of Indianapolis, we were the spot underneath the compass. True story. So as the neighborhood ceased to exist, so did the church. It was the church of a neighborhood that was no more.
But researching the history of the place opened my eyes to something new.
That neighborhood still existed. It could only be seen by those twenty five seniors, but it was real. Sure, it looked funny. A huge coal plant gobbled up most of it. But there were people who worked there. And a factory. People there, too. A motley assortment of houses containing transients who tried to stay one step ahead of landlords who tried to evict them once they got in there for a month and never paid the rent, which they had no intention to pay, anyway, when they first moved in.
People there, too.
And once my eyes were open, I became the pastor to that church and to that neighborhood. And in less than two years we became the fastest growing church in our area and a poster child for urban church renewal in our denominational jurisdiction. We had some denominational execs come to visit us and ask, “So which denominational program of ours are you using that’s bringing you all this success?”
Now, my question to you:
What was the passion that started your organization originally?
What was the passion that started you in the organization originally?
Do you remember?
Have you fallen far from it?
Does that make you wistful?
1“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: 2I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. 4Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.
Jesus, in Revelation 2:1-4