Having wasted my twenties…

Sisters

I’ve had this thought lately.  It comes to me every two weeks or so.

Having wasted my twenties, will I do the same with my thirties?

Let me wind back a bit.  I spent my twenties longing to build, and then building, a church.  I was 25 when we started it, the youngest in the team, the most starry-eyed of all.  I mean, this was a church we were planting.  How could life get any better?  God had called me to it at the age of 19; now it was finally beginning!

As the years sailed on by, leadership came to us.  At first, it was as part of a team led by an older, more experienced leader.  And then, with little warning, when I was 28 and had just embarked on a Masters degree, that leader stepped down and three of us, all equally clueless, had to find our way.  The adventure had begun.

In those first three years, we’d had a lot of older, more mature believers but that dynamic began to change.  Some left because God had called them on to a different part of the country, some left because they couldn’t get their heads round younger leaders perhaps, others quietly slipped away as life overtook them.  Since then, we’ve had a lot of younger people join us: non-believers, new believers and trying-to-figure-it-all-out believers.  Not many mature ones so the three of us have done a LOT of one-to-one investment to grow disciples, leaders.

We’ve seen a lot come in but then we’ve also seen a lot move on.  In fact, I counted last week.  In the last two years, we have seen 40 go out the door!  That’s four-zero, 40.  And these are the ones who made the church their home, not the ones who were just passing through for a month or two.

The Sunday congregation has always sat between 45 and 70, including children.  So to give away 40 is huge – especially when we still seem to have 35-45 regularly each Sunday!  Some of them have left to get married, others have moved abroad; some were only ever in London on work or study secondment for a year, others were students who moved elsewhere when they finished.  Almost all of them have good reasons.  A handful left for other reasons, largely because there are easier churches to belong to in the nearby area.  To be honest, I’d probably be with them if I weren’t called here.  We are really serious about making disciples and being community.  It’s not a place to hide and it’s not a place to coast.

So, you see, I don’t feel I have much to show for my 20s.  I’m partway into my 30s and I’m still doing the same thing.  I’m a lot less naive than I was.  I am not so starry-eyed.  And, to be honest, I have realised how emotionally worn I have become.  It is hard to invest your heart and your whole person in others for a time – to see them come to faith and to baptise them, shepherding them through the early thrills and spills of a life now shaped by faith, believing them into greatness, taking risks on them as we give away responsibilities which most churches wouldn’t dream of – only to see them move on.

And though it makes it easier if they leave well, off to serve God in some other place, it still breaks my heart every time.  It breaks my heart because we don’t hold back when we invest in making disciples.  And, as a team, we are really feeling the emotional exhaustion of this, eight years on.  There is only so often that you can give your heart away without reserve to see the formation of Christ in someone and then have to watch them leave.  Out of that 40, I’d invested personally in about 17.  Of those 17, there were 10 who’d met with me regularly over the course of a year or more.  And this is to say nothing of the others with whom I had done the same in previous years, people who left before the two year time period which I am counting.

Our work has been constant and the load heavy.  It may have borne fruit for the kingdom but it has not borne fruit for our needs in this church.  And whilst I know that kingdom fruit is what it’s all about, we still need workers to be raised up in this particular corner of the field.

That’s why I’m asking it, this question, relentless in its recurrence in my thoughts:

Having wasted my twenties, will I do the same with my thirties?

And it’s a serious question, because there are some things you can do in your twenties and thirties that you can’t do later in life.  Youth can’t be got back again.  Freedom to run about here, there and everywhere is the prerogative of youth.  Having wasted my twenties, will I do the same with my thirties?

Though you might not think it by the fact that I am asking this question, I can still say that I do not regret the way that I have given my time so far.  I really hope that we would do the same again. I really hope that we will keep doing it as long as he wants us doing it.  Because in the end, I trust that we will have no regrets.  In the words of a song sung by Ben Cantelon:

When I finally reach the end
I’ll say, You are worth it all.

That song is a bit of an anthem for me right now.  Because here and now, this last year, I haven’t been so OK with the cost.  I’ve wondered whether God will turn up and turn this situation around, raising up a firm foundation of maturity in us, binding us into a community of disciples and – to be perhaps a little more frank than most people find comfortable from a pastor – I’ve wondered whether he’ll do that before Peter and I keel over or after.

But every time we sing it, that line in that song gets me.  You see, it might not be all right in this moment.  It might not feel worth it all in the here and now.  But we live with the end in view.  Our present is coming to us not out of the past but out of the future.  And he has already made that future sure.  So I know that when I finally reach the end I’ll say, You ARE worth it all.

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4 thoughts on “Having wasted my twenties…

  1. I find myself in a similar position, well it’s quite different, but the thought processes are similar and i just wanted to encourage you with this. Perhaps THE greatest call and the best act of service for this Kingdom is making disciples. You know this, because you have been doing it – intentionally, passionately, wholeheartedly and sacrificially. NONE of what you have been doing has been in vain. You have been an apostolic epicenter, a training, resourcing and sending church. There are so few churches and leaders like you! Please don’t give up! The next generation NEED people like you to invest and release. The old way of doing church is possessive. The way we must move into is resourcing and releasing just like they did back in the days of the Apostles. Praying God sends you some workers who share your tenacity and DNA for building the kingdom. E M Bounds once wrote that ” Men are God’s method. The church is looking for better methods, God is looking for better men.” You have been equipping the Church through your discipling of the people. You are doing God’s work. Praying that refreshment comes soon!

  2. Pingback: Falling out of love with the church | The Art of Steering

  3. Pingback: Setting the leadership goalposts | The Art of Steering

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