Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Try, Try Again

One of my favorite quotes is, “It is better to have tried something and failed than to have tried nothing and succeeded.” This came to mind as I was clearing out files in preparation for my departure from the Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship at the end of the year. Although we have developed some successful projects and relationships over the past ten years, I was struck by how many we attempted that did not succeed or result in an ongoing relationship.

We have developed a healthy relationship with twelve ministry partners. All but two of these have been included (or are presently included) in our Tennessee Partners in Missions offering. These are ministries whose values and ministry goals match those of TCBF. All are independent of our organization, but they are our friends and they honor us by giving us the opportunity to work with them. On the other hand, there are at least 15 ministries with whom we have tried to establish an ongoing relationship, but this has not developed for one reason or another. Sometimes it was lack of interest on the part of the other ministry, sometimes lack on interest on the part of our constituency, and sometimes it was because the ministry moved in a different direction. All seemed to be good potential partners, but the relationship ultimately failed.

A similar story can be told in relationship to new church starts. In one way or another, TCBF has been involved in at least 12 new church start projects over the past ten years—four worked, four floundered, and four were never born. Believer’s Baptist Fellowship, Olive Branch Fellowship, Neverfail Community Church, and “the story” are alive and functioning as communities of faith. Considerable time, prayer, and money were put into efforts in Franklin, Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Murfreesboro, but they didn’t work. Good people, ongoing prayer, and significant effort were invested in these new church starts, but these efforts did not survive early childhood. At least four other projects were considered, but they were never initiated. Quite honestly, I talked one group out of even trying!

So what does this have to say to us? I am reminded of the Parable of the Sower in Mark 4. Some seed fell on rocky ground, some was eaten by the birds, some started to grow but was killed by the sun, and some fell among thorns and was smothered. But Jesus concludes by saying, “Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times."

Did the sower waste his time? No. He tried to do his best. Perhaps sometimes he sowed carelessly, but where the seed found root it prospered and gave a great harvest. The same is true of the ministries and churches that survive and prosper. They are producing fruit that will continue for eternity. In the final analysis, the success belongs to God. We do our best, but God gives the reward.


Mike Smith and Rami Shapiro said...

Cleaning out files almost always leads to a bit of retrospection, doesn't it? I strongly agree that the parable of the sower and the seeds applies to your years of ministry through TCBF.

In the end, it's the sowing that matters most. After all, we have little control over the weather, birds of the air, or other factors. We can sow, though.

For what it may be worth, I consider you one of the great "sowers" of our era.

Ircel said...

Thank you for the affirmation!