Over the years I’ve often been told to rely on your strengths. Play to your strengths is the age-old advice. Find out what you’re good at and focus on your sweet spot.
And while at times in life there’s definitely some wisdom in that, recently I’ve been discovering more about how often the most significant times of leadership and learning are in weakness, simplicity and vulnerability.
Recently, alongside some friends and with the blessing of our church family, a small team of us from Carnmoney Church have been establishing a fresh church community in the Cathedral Quarter area of Belfast. It’s a thriving and growing area of the city centre with not a huge amount of church buildings or gatherings of Christians. After a few years of sensing a need, asking some questions, and running Alpha Courses in the area, we took the step last month of beginning some Wednesday night gathering in a local theatre.
It’s been a fun journey already, with some hints that we are in the midst of something significant, but what has struck me in these early weeks has been the sense of operating from a place of weakness and vulnerability, rather than out of strength and power.
In many of the projects, initiatives, events or gatherings I’ve been part of in the past there has been a clear blueprint. We have arrived with our plans, launched our resources, pitched, used our strengths, but this has been different. As Carnmoney Central has been established, and as we have dreamed, chatted, prayed and begun a rhythm of weekly gatherings, it has felt entirely different.
Luke 10 documents a time when Jesus sent his followers out into the world. But instead of placing a host of plans, ideas and resources into their hands, he tells them to take little with them and carry nothing in their hands. They are to empty handed and open hearted, rather than rely on all their strengths. Instead of protecting and pastoring them, Jesus tells them that they are being sent out as lambs among wolves. Not the best launch pad for mission into the hostile world around them. And yet they go.
I’ve sensed a similar spirit as we have begun Central.
As a team we certainly know we don’t have all the answers about what it takes to plant, grow or lead a church.
Every time we gather we could almost be embarrassed by the simplicity of saying hello, singing a few songs using a single instrument, a half hour sermon and inviting people to respond.
In some meetings we have felt blind as we step into the future, a fair bit uncertain about the future direction of a brand new church.
We feel vulnerable as we step into The Mac week by week, unsure of how our songs, our words and our lives will connect with those who gather with us.
Some nights we’ve felt insecure wondering if anyone is actually going to show up to join us, as if the metrics of success actually depend on a number or a graph.
The model is simple and we are stripped bare. Yet amidst all the unknowns, the blindness, the vulnerability and the insecurity, we have been so encouraged by God’s strength in our weakness, His speaking into our doubt, and His movement into our blank spaces. We are more aware of His presence in our vulnerability, His touching lives in our smallness, and the stirrings of His heart in the silence of our strategies.
And so we stand, a few weeks into gathering as a brand new community of God’s people. Already we feel like family and yet we haven’t even scratched the surface. Already we’ve sensed His moving yet we know there is so much more. And while we want more of His leading and less of our blindness, we don’t want ever want to lose this sense of God moving even among our simplicity and vulnerability.