threading.the.needle

Limited resources – from money to people, most church plants live with limited resources. Now, before someone gets all “holy” on me, understand that I understand that God’s resources are unlimited, but for whatever reason (and there are many) church planters typically deal with a very limited resource set. It has been my observation that in spite of the level of resources available, church planters share one thing in common and in abundance – passion. We want to see God’s love poured out over people and real life-change occurring in as many people as possible. The problem is that our passion, more often than not, far outpaces the available resources. So then, the very real challenge facing church planters is to make the most of those resources.

I don’t know how rare this is, but as a young boy, I was actually shown how to sew. No, I am not talking about being able to make a garment, just the repair sort of thing – replacing buttons, fixing a pulled hem. One of the challenges for my young hands was threading a needle. I remember my aunt telling me that I needed to get rid of the frays in the thread and sharpen the end of the thread to get it into the needle’s eye. Trial and error taught me how to accomplish it. First I would try to lightly wet the thread with my mouth and twist the thread. Usually this would work, but sometimes it would not. Sometimes the frays were just too much to be able to smooth out in this manner. For those times, a more drastic method was necessary. I had to break out the scissors, and cut the end of the thread at a sharp angle. Sometimes, I had to combine this with the first method.

I have often had to apply these techniques to our church plant. We are always threading needles. We have big dreams for our church plants. God has given us a wide vision of the future of this work we are tasked with. Remembering that it takes many steps to get there is a necessary discipline. We cannot do everything with limited resources. The trick is to do what must be done, and no more than that. Notice that I did not say “what can be done” – I said “what must be done”. Just because the capability might be there does not mean the justification is there. The “frays” are what make the job hard. Without a focused point, the thread simply will not go into the needle’s eye. It just won’t. As long as we allow them to linger, the needle will not be threaded. We have got to focus our efforts as much as possible. Some wise person once said that he would rather do one thing extremely well than to do a lot of things with mediocre or barely adequate results. That is, in my opinion, a wise maxim for church planting. The challenge is choosing that one thing.

Oh yes – I almost forgot. Remember, sometimes I had to cut the thread – the frays were just too stubborn. Sometimes, this technique also has to be applied to church planting. Despite our best intentions and efforts, sometimes a ministry area becomes so unfocused that the plug just has to be pulled on the whole thing. That, speaking from experience, is a very humbling position in which to find one’s self. Perhaps it is a pride issue, but for whatever reason, once we start something we loathe the thought of stopping it. However, we know that we cannot allow something is not working to drain resources in vain. Take out the scissors and make the cut. It may feel like a failure or a defeat, but in the long run we will find that it was worth it. We can never be adverse to change, even a complete overhaul, if it isn’t working.

I am no expert, and am only commenting upon my own experience as a current church planter. But ironically, I believe that the resource problem is a healthy one, and probably divinely designed. It causes on lean heavily on prayer and to expect miracles. It forces us to focus in order to be effective. It causes us to assign high value to the essential things and to scrutinize the “frays”. If we embrace the situation, and allow it to guide us (with the Holy Spirit’s leading), we should have healthier church plants, which become healthy churches.

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