This Is the Making

Image by Adam Littman Davis.

Image by Adam Littman Davis.

Jesse called in the middle of the day, and I remember ducking into an empty conference room to talk.

He sounded down.

“…Yeah, we’re just not going to have enough people now. I don’t know. I’m worried. Maybe we should cancel this time.”

Jesse and I worked together to lead a monthly worship night at Princeton Seminary. We relied on involvement from the tight-knit group of students who had started the event, but in such an intense academic environment, we also had to honor the very real pressure on everyone’s schedules. During our first couple months, we had a lot of turnover. It was hard hearing Jesse struggling with confidence because of it. It also sounded familiar.

One of the things that surprised me the most when I started taking worship director jobs was the inadequacy I faced all the time. No matter how hard I tried, how well I planned, or how much I rehearsed my band, random stuff happened and I would come up short. I like to be prepared and I also have years of practical event production experience, so it felt uncomfortable and even irresponsible on Saturday nights to be on my face in fervent prayer begging God to show up in all that would be happening the next morning. But there I was. I can’t do this without you. I can’t do this without you. I can’t do this without you. I can’t do this without you. Strangely, each time, I would sense God working in powerful ways I did not anticipate. What I learned is that the inadequacies, the people cancelling, the tight budgets, the faulty equipment, whatever, those things come and go. But the posture—I can’t do this without you—has become an important stance I come back to time and time again. My heart remembers it and my heart remembers God’s responses to it. Years later, that needy place of prayer still does not feel comfortable, but it has begun to feel familiar. “I don’t have enough here, but I know you are partnering with me and moving in this not-enough space. I am relying on you, even in the face of these crazy odds. Show me how you see this situation.”

It’s a strange and beautiful truth: God invites us to make something, and in the making, God forms us too.

Author Richard Rohr recognizes this formation in the assignments Jesus gave his disciples early in their ministry. Following is an excerpt from Adam’s Return, Rohr’s book on initiation:

Study, for example, his instructions to the twelve disciples, when he sent them into society in a very vulnerable way (no shoes or wallet, like sheep among wolves). How did we miss this? Note that it was not an intellectual message as much as it was an “urban plunge,” a high-risk experience where something new and good could happen. It was designed to change the disciples much more than it was meant for them to change others! (See Matthew 10:1-33 or Luke 10:1-24.) Today we call it a reverse mission, where we ourselves are changed and helped by those whom we think we are serving.

When read in light of classic initiation patterns, Jesus’ intentions are very clear. He wanted his disciples—then and now—to experience the value of vulnerability. Jesus invites us to a life without baggage so we can learn how to accept others and their culture. Instead, we carry along our own country’s assumptions masquerading as “the good news.” He did not teach us to hang up a shingle to get people to attend our services. He taught us exactly the opposite: We should stay in their homes and eat their food! This is a very strong anti-institutional model.

It is a very strong anti-institutional model because its aim is less to influence than to be influenced. The instructions Rohr references in Matthew and Luke are pretty strange:

As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. (Matthew 10:7-10)

The language is beautiful, but we would never do these things today, would we? Go somewhere brand new where we don’t know anyone, without planning ahead or taking supplies because that would be too distracting. Instead, simply meet people and do supernatural things in their lives. Trust that any needs will be taken care of by those people.

What?

Can’t we pack a few granola bars in our pockets in case we get hungry?

We don’t have to.

In these stories, learning how to trust is more important.

I want to be clear that none of this is an excuse to not do our best in the communities that are under our care. If things aren’t going well, we need to pull back and listen. God deserves our excellence, and the world needs Christians who can express the immense heart of God in every situation. But our excellence does not have to be the ceiling of what we do when we are partnering with something supernatural. What we do is important, but so is how we travel and who we become through the communities that are closest to us. God is extremely, amazingly, and sometimes frustratingly precise in seasons of formation: nothing is static, nothing is wasted. 

Later that evening I wrote Jesse, to encourage him that this posture would get familiar the more he led worship. The work we were doing was humble, but it was not small. I let him know God cared deeply that students connected their hearts through worship in all its forms at Princeton. If we had an open door there to participate, it was worth pressing in and showing up. We needed to do our best, but we could also ask for what we needed—and rely on God to move in those impossible spaces. It’s how we learn to move in them too.

This is the making.