Saturday, April 21, 2007

when to quit

A big day of endings in the cricket world today - Englands coach (Duncan Fletcher) and the West Indies star batsman Brian Lara both in their last games. The consensus seems to be that Fletcher hung around too long, and will always be remembered for the Ashes success of 2005. The 20 months in between is a long time in cricketing terms, and England have faltered badly in that time. Question marks now hang over Michael Vaughan, the current England captain, and whether he too is living on past glories.

One comment from Spring Harvest which has really stuck with me is from Philippians, where the speaker Ian Coffey focused on Pauls statement about forgetting what is behind him and focusing on what is ahead. People, and organisations, can be drawn into focusing so much on past glories that the world passes them by. The secret of success in the present is to forget the successes of the past - in a world of rapid change, we're tempted to think that all we need to do is what we did before, and magically it will succeed. That's like aiming an arrow at where the target was last year, regardless of whether it's been moved or not. If we don't do this, then what was a movement can become a monument and end up as a mausoleum. Part of the secret of staying fresh is godly forgetfulness.

Having said that, we don't want to get so focused on 'results' that people who had a fruitful ministry in the past are forced out of leadership just because things are going through a slow patch. God's rhythms are different from those of the cricket season. At the same time, church leaders need to be able to let go if they are past their seasons of fruitfulness in a particular community. That's really hard for those of us in leadership who make our homes and lives in a certain place, because it's not just about giving up a ministry, you have to give up everything. When I move from this church, I'll have to move from my house too. How can we support leaders better in making these kind of choices, so that the church can continue to thrive without leaders and their families being sacrificed?

Also, not everything from the past gets rejected. Paul also gave us the concept of 'tradition' - handing on to people the teaching he himself recieved, and the need to preserve and take good care of what we've been entrusted with. So it's quite a challenge to sift out the things we need to remember from the things we need to forget. And we can go off the rails in both directions - churches which remember everything and forget nothing, and churches which remember nothing and wear their people out with a constant stream of innovation.

Maybe one of the skills we need is the ability to move on from the past without devaluing it. The media have been all over Vaughan and Fletcher, which is unfortunate, because they've both done great things in their time, and Vaughan may still do again. Can the church be a place where we honour the past without becoming captive to it? Can a spirit of generosity from those who remember past glories go hand in hand with a spirit of gratitude from those who are setting a new direction?

All of which leads neatly to the Westfield Youth Cafe, 'Cafe Izaya', which we did the official opening for this morning. Great to see a church which relates most directly to the elderly giving hospitality to this innovative (and award-winning - a national award for 'Team of the Year' from the Millennium Volunteer Awards) youth ministry. Young and old working together, and as we looked round the place today it felt like the teething troubles were worth it.

Finally, back to cricket. Yorkshire won. All is well.

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