Someone told me recently I was ahead of my time.
I think that’s right.
An innovative community is by definition ahead of its time. The problem is that being ahead of your time is not as cool as it sounds. Being “ahead of your time” means you live as an oddity, often misunderstood and misrepresented by the time in which you actually live. It can feel isolating and as if we are struggling for what has to be called a lack of popular support. Obviously, I know the UNDERGROUND better than other organizations. We are widely respected, and even liked, by our sister ministries around the city. It seems to me that for the most part we enjoy a good reputation. There are even people who will visit us from time to time for encouragement, or for an injection of apostolic energy - but they won’t pack up and join us. It is like we are a kind of sideshow, and only the early adopters are interested. One of the problems we face is trying to measure our growth and development in the light of bigger ministries. The truth is, if a ministry grows very large very fast (growing by adding people who are already Christian) it is probably not ahead of its time. The immediate response of the rank and file believer only serves to confirm that the new thing is just doing the old thing better.
Communities like ours will never grow from a mass exodus from other churches. The cost is too high and the boundaries of the community too unfamiliar. If I visit a new church and it does all the things I think it should do, only better than the last place I was, I will make the switch (and so will everyone else) - but if I visit a place that does none of the things I expect a church to do, redefining my expectations in the encounter, the rate of change will be slower, because the experience is disorienting and implies repentance and change.
John the Baptist had loads of people come out to see him, but not in the beginning. He was alone, a prophet, a seer, an oddity. He waited for something no one had ever seen. He lived in expectation of something that did not yet exist. When Jesus was talking to the crowds about John he said. “What did you come out to see? A reed swaying in the wind… no, a prophet.”
How many people we have coming to our microchurches is simply not the critical question. If we ask that question then we will be tempted to sway like a reed in the wind, bending to the will and whim of those we are hoping to serve. Serving people spiritually often means leading them to something new, something they are not familiar with and something they think they are not ready for. To be a forerunner is to make the way straight for the new thing that God wants to do. The greatest progress of our lives is always when we step out into a new and unfamiliar place with God. The real question to be asking is whether we are helping people move closer to God; whether we are a voice, like John crying in the wilderness, “make straight a way for the Lord.” I think being misunderstood is actually part of the being the real church, but being ineffective is not. Fruit, not necessarily massive numeric growth, is what Jesus promises to those who abide in him and who obey his word.
It just takes time and faithfulness. Being ahead a little means you will be misunderstood, criticized and even at times rejected because you are offering new wine in a new wineskin - but isn’t that what the church should be? What is the kingdom if not a critique of the status quo and an invitation into a better way? Most of my life I have stood in this uncomfortable position. Still, I would not trade it because it means we have been given the privilege to lead, and even though leadership can be lonely it gives us first access to the water in the wells we draw from.