I am not a good sleeper. Almost fifteen years ago I had a 10 month bout with insomnia. I went through all kinds of testing to figure out the problem. At the end of the day it came down to one issue, my inability to deal with stress. I was only 22 at the time and my life really was not all that complicated. I had average stressors for a youngster. I just felt every pressure and responsibility like it was a cinder block laid on my neck. I wanted to convince myself I was a contemplative person but I really had a deeper rooted issue.
I was afraid of failure. I was afraid of not impressing the people around me. I was afraid of missing out on opportunities. I was afraid I was not measuring up to some invisible standard that haunted me. I could not rest.
It was in that dark season that I came face to face with how self-conscience and impatient I was. I wanted to make a big impact and I wanted it to happen immediately. With all this external passion, internally I was riddled with insecurity, caught in an identity scramble and looking for approval.
I could hide publicly by compensating with my personality but I could not hide it from my wife and from my physical body. It all eventually caught up with me.
The Spiritual Laboratory
What I learned years ago from this personal breakdown has directly informed how I view the formation of a Missional-Community in the present. Missional Communities are more akin to a spiritual laboratory than they are an organization. The difference is not small. Cultivating an environment where people learn how to love unselfishly and reorient around community and mission is a process that requires a lot of massaging. No program can shortcut around this. No electric preaching series can speed this up. No event can launch this. Clarifying your communication won’t get everybody on board. Instead there is a process of transformation I’ve learned to welcome called Missional-Marinating.
I’ll tell you up front, my old-high-capacity-leader-self resists this marinating process. My old self can’t rest, it can’t sleep. It needs quick returns, escalating numbers, regional buzz and high excitement. All of those pieces previously helped me not feel like a failure. But here in the laboratory of a Missional-Community, slow is our friend. Seeking slowness is essential in the stew of discipleship. Cultivating a culture saturated in the embodied life of Jesus requires purposeful patience. A new character needs to be developed while leading in this type of atmosphere. Slow is not something to bear with, it’s something to embrace. No longer am I trying to launch an organization that sparkles before its consumers. The call is to shape a way of life; to create a conducive setting for transformation. In this stew we need unhurried time and grace-filled space for: long conversations, unearthing conflicts, detox from consumerism, facing missional fears, relearning how to listen, frustrated prayers and moving beyond suspicion to trust.
We certainly need to be intentional and honest in evaluation, but I’ve learned to be careful with measuring. As a leader my flesh and culture tell me to quantify my success, set visible goals and find fulfillment from their achievement. So many of us live impatient lives materially and spiritually. We want to climb. We need to claw for attainment. We need to find angles to get control of the outcomes. We long for an immediate return on investment. But Jesus lingered in anonymity for 30 years in his neighborhood before going public with his mission. There is something to digest about the quiet and incremental nature modeled for us in Jesus.
Everything about the formation of a vibrant community of people on mission is slow, seriously slow. I’m now convinced it’s a very good thing and more importantly where the Holy Spirit marinates with his people.