Fast Forward: Embrace Uncertainty

This month we are beginning a new series just at Gateway South Campus called Fast Forward. Kenny Green or I will be speaking each week this month with a desire to help each of us move forward faster in our own lives, but also to help us move forward faster as a campus, as a community.

Here are highlights from today’s message on “Embracing Uncertainty.”

This series is designed for you if you’ve ever the following ways:

  • Ever find yourself stuck unsure where you should go?
  • Ever feel like you are wandering around in circles?
  • Ever feel like something good is right around the corner but you don’t know if you have the courage to proceed?

We are looking at how uncertainty, risk, change, and sacrifice should be embraced (rather than avoided) to help us make progress.

This goes against what we’ve been taught or what our culture seems to embrace. We tend to gravitate towards certainty, safety or comfort, the status quo, and selfishness rather than such challenging experiences like uncertainty, risk, change, and sacrifice!

Even though we will see that uncertainty, risk, change, and sacrifice are critical values in the Scriptures, those of us with a background in church have been raised to avoid these very important Kingdom values.

Some of us grew up in families or church communities that sought to be a shelter from the world. Our well-meaning parents and pastors hoped to protect us from being influenced by the culture. We were so bored with a life in the bubble that many of us rebelled as soon as we could!

Others of us may have grown up in families or churches that were so assimilated into the culture that we never noticed a difference between a life with God and a life without God. As a result, we walked away from our faith.

Jesus actually offers something very different from a life protected from the world or a life no different than the world.

When Jesus walked this earth, He turned everything upside down. The people were wanting a political savior, but He came to rescue them spiritually. The people wanted political power, but Jesus offered them eternal life and spiritual freedom.

He healed people and taught people, and then He willingly allowed Himself to be tried for something He had not done and crucified even though He was innocent. The values of the invisible Kingdom that Jesus started are very different than the values of our world.

Rather than a Kingdom advanced by wars and treaties and bound by borders, Jesus is the King of an invisible Kingdom that has no borders, that invites all who want to follow Him (no matter their background). His Kingdom is advanced by faith, love, hope, and peace rather than war and negotiations.

We will see during this series that we move forward faster into the better future God has for us when we are willing to embrace uncertainty, risk, change, and sacrifice.

In Los Angeles, our lead pastor at Mosaic, Erwin McManus is one of the most innovative people I know. He wrote a book on entrepreneurial leadership called Seizing Your Divine Moment and later renamed Chasing Daylight: Seize the Power of Every Moment. He used the story of Jonathan and the armor bearer as the basis for his book. Entrepreneurial leaders take the following steps: “initiative,” “uncertainty,” “influence,” “risk,” and “advance.”

The story of Jonathan comes at the time the people of Israel finally have a king. They had been led by God through judges and prophets. Jealous of all the other warring kingdoms around them, they wanted a king. They were warned of the dangers of switching from God to a king, but they chose a king anyway. Over the years, the people of Israel had great kings, and they had evil kings. Saul, their first king started off well, but he allowed fear, jealousy, and rebellion to lead him down a dark path. Here’s a story of his noble son Jonathan when facing the Philistines.

1 Samuel 14
One day Jonathan son of Saul said to his young armor-bearer, “Come, let’s go over to the Philistine outpost on the other side.” But he did not tell his father. Saul was staying on the outskirts…. With him were about six hundred men…. No one was aware that Jonathan had left.

On each side of the pass that Jonathan intended to cross to reach the Philistine outpost was a cliff…. Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised men. Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.”

“Do all that you have in mind,” his armor-bearer said. “Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul.”

Jonathan said, “Come on, then; we will cross over toward them and let them see us. If they say to us, ‘Wait there until we come to you,’ we will stay where we are and not go up to them. 10 But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ we will climb up, because that will be our sign that the Lord has given them into our hands.”

A great plan, huh?!

Erwin writes what we can learn from Jonathan’s willingness to embrace uncertainty:

Jonathan was certain about some things, and at the same time he was able and willing to operate in the realm of uncertainty. He called out to his armor-bearer and said, “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised fellows. Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf” (1 Samuel 14:6)…. This is what he was saying in plain English, “Let’s go and pick a fight. Maybe God will help.”

Jonathan understood that not everything was guaranteed, that you don’t wait until all the money is in the bank. There are some things that you can know and some things that you will not know. He went on to say, “Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.”

He had such a clear perspective on reality. What he knew for certain was that God was powerful enough to get the job done, that it didn’t matter if it was two of them against a thousand Philistines. His father’s apprehension to go to war with six hundred soldiers and only two weapons—that’s right, two swords—was reasonable, but not enough to excuse neglecting the purpose of God. And so if it was only Jonathan and his armor-bearer and only Jonathan with a sword, he would still move in line with God’s mission for them.[1]

Here’s the problem: we do not like uncertainty!!

Are you familiar with the personality assessment called the Myers Briggs Temperament Indicator? Some of us love to come to closure. We love to come to judgments as soon as possible. This “J” type of person doesn’t feel comfortable without having a plan in place. A plan guides us and gives us the illusion of certainty.

Others of us are perceivers (“P”). We want as much information as possible before we have to make a decision. As a result, this crowd is more spontaneous, but they can also be indecisive. You’d think perceivers would love uncertainty. They don’t tend to like plans for sure because plans feel like a trap or shackles. They want freedom! The challenge for perceivers though: sometimes they get tired of feeling unsettled. They have a tendency to want to bounce from job to job and relationship to relationship and town to town looking for something ideal that never seems to come to pass.

Both of these types of personalities have strengths and weaknesses. Some of us do better with uncertainty, but deep down I think all of us want to know the right thing and want to be able to keep doing it.

Some of us have come to closure to soon on who we think God is in our lives and what God wants to do in our lives.

Some of us lack the courage to try something new, and some of us lack the character to stay where we are and make things better.

Here’s the thing: as much as we dislike uncertainty. Uncertainty is the space where we can grow to trust Jesus!

I have seen this true in my own life. Some of the times when I was closest to God seemed to have been those moments when God was moving us. I grew up in Dallas/Fort Worth (Hurst, Euless, Bedford from 6th grade until college). After going to Baylor, I married Debbie who was graduating from U.T. Arlington. Two months after getting married, we moved to Seattle. Originally I had been offered a job to work with the college students and teenagers in a church plant. Just before we moved, we found out that we were still invited, but we wouldn’t be paid. There are so many miraculous moments in this story and so many really difficult challenges, but let me just say: we grew so much closer to God and to each other in the midst of the uncertainty.

A 96 year old woman from the church where I was serving as the youth pastor in Waco had a niece in Seattle that let us move into her upstairs apartment for $75 a month, and I found a job the first day we arrived because our next door neighbor had just quit his delivery job and encouraged me to go down and see if they would hire me to replace him. Eventually the church hired me, and I went back to school to get my Masters degree.

Four years later: we moved to Los Angeles to volunteer at a church called Mosaic. Debbie had secured an unpaid internship for occupational therapy, so she couldn’t help with the bills. I didn’t have a job, but I assumed I would get one just as easily as I did in Seattle. 6 weeks later and down to very little in the bank, I was deeply discouraged. Finally, I got a job with a rental car company where I worked for 6 weeks before Mosaic asked me to become the youth pastor for $6000 per year. I started substitute teaching so I could make up the difference in what we needed to pay the bills, and I quit my job at the rental car company.

We had some amazing times in L.A., and we had some really difficult times. Looking back, we grew closer to God and to each other in the midst of the uncertainty.

Sometimes, God invites us to do things we do not want to do. Either we are afraid to trust Him or we don’t want to do what He wants us to do or we don’t want to stop doing what we are doing because we like it!

I’ve been there. My wife, kids, and extended family all wanted us to live in Texas. We both grew up here. All of our family is here. After 15 years on the West Coast, they all wanted us to move. There was only one person standing in the way – me. I didn’t want to leave. I liked what I was doing and where we were living.

At a family get-together out at Lake LBJ, I heard my mom, my aunt who lives here in Austin, my wife, and my daughter all talking about how they were praying we would move to Texas. That was the final straw for me! I was so frustrated with them. They were praying something would happen in my life that I did not want to happen!

As we drove back to Los Angeles, Debbie and I spent those three days talking about our future. It was on that trip, I agreed to at least pray and ask God what He wanted us to do – something I had been resistant to do.

On the day I was supposed to begin praying about whether we should stay in LA or move to Texas, I decided to go to the gym. (This in itself was a miracle. I never went to the gym). As I walked in, I noticed how loud the music seemed to be that early in the morning. In spite of that, I prayed quietly in my mind: “God, just guide me to know where you want us to live – where you want us to serve you.” It was at that moment that I heard the song:

 “Ohio (Come Back to Texas)” by Bowling for Soup

It was a song I had never heard before and never heard on the radio since.

Honestly I was a bit freaked out – so much so that when I got on the treadmill and noticed that ESPN was showing highlights from a Little League game with CA vs TX, I just couldn’t take it anymore, so I told God: “This is too much for me. Just make it clear where we are supposed to go. Whoever wins this game is where we will live!” Then the Texas team won.

Then after several amazing events and crazy circumstances, Debbie changed her mind and didn’t want to move. Crisis averted!

A year later, I started thinking we were supposed to be moving. Strange things started happening again. One moment in particular came when I was reading from Ezekiel:

“I am sending you to an obstinate and stubborn people…. You are not being sent to a people of obscure speech and difficult language…. Go now to your countrymen….” – Ez. 2-3

Doesn’t that sound like Texas?! A stubborn and obstinate people! I am a Texan and these words described me. “Countrymen?!” What other state in America thinks of itself as its own country?

So much more happened that I don’t have time to share. I called a couple of friends including Charles Dishinger, our Exective Director at Gateway Church asking for prayer and ideas. After several conversations and an amazing turn of events, Charles said these words: “I don’t know how much we can pay or when you’d start, or what you’d do, but we would like for you to join the team.”

After moving to Seattle without a job and then moving to Los Angeles without a job moving to Austin with an opportunity without clarity was an upgrade!

The adventure of moving here, living here, and serving as part of Gateway has brought us closer to God and closer to each other.

So often we resist uncertainty – the very thing God uses to build up our faith! 

Working on my doctorate of ministry in entrepreneurial leadership, I decided to write on what it takes to create a culture of innovation. In my time in Seattle and Los Angeles, it had become obvious that innovation is necessary to reach a diverse and post-Christian community. In addition, sustaining innovation remains critical. To erroneously rely on the innovations of the past leads to irrelevance in the present and the future.

I set out to discover the skills necessary for a pastor to develop in order to create and sustain an innovative environment within his or her leadership team and church. I identified the skills necessary for a leader to organize and sustain innovation, as demonstrated by historical and biblical leaders as well as contemporary leaders within businesses and churches.

I read about the transition from Jethro to Moses to Joshua and Jesus to Paul to Timothy. I looked at historical figures like Martin Luther and his predecessor Philip Melancthon during the protestant reformation and Abraham Lincoln and William Henry Seward in their efforts to unite our country and end slavery. I also had the opportunity to interview leaders from Google, the Gallup organization, Saddleback Church, Willow Creek Church, a Vice President from Disney, and many more.

In analyzing the data gathered during the review of the literature as well as the interviews, I discovered five internal skills, five relational skills, and five future-oriented skills necessary for a pastoral leader to exhibit in order to create and sustain a culture of innovation.

The internal and relational skills make for an effective leader, but the leader who creates and sustains a culture of innovation also demonstrates skills for navigating the future. These skills include a bias for change, the ability to embrace uncertainty, the courage to take risks, the freedom to fail, and resilience.

Innovative leaders embrace uncertainty. Pastor Chrzan from Saddleback suggests that effective leaders manage in the midst of a fast-moving and loosely structured environment. He contends: “Being organized and being innovative are two things you’re going to have to hold at tension.” Pastor Peacock suggests that people of faith can navigate uncertainty with more confidence as a result of their relationship with God who guides and protects His people.

Innovative pastoral leaders take risks, experiment, and create an environment where the other leaders in their church have the freedom to fail. When encouraging the leaders at 12 Stone Church to experiment, Pastor Reiland shared a mantra they use: “Make mistakes, make lots of mistakes, make big mistakes, but never make the same mistake twice.” Pastor Chrzan suggests that to sustain innovation in your ministry, leaders need to remind their team not to let fear stop them from trying something new. Along the same lines, Pastor Peacock contends that “the enemy to innovation is fear.”

Ed Catmull from Pixar insists leaders “have to accept the uncertainty, even when it’s uncomfortable.”[2] The business literature suggests innovative leaders know how to “manage uncertainty,”[3] “tolerate ambiguity,”[4] and “handle complexity.”[5]

All organizations (if unwilling to embrace uncertainty and continue to innovate) could fall prey to the “innovator’s dilemma.”[2] Clayton Christensen explains in his book The Innovator’s Dilemma; organizations fail if they continually rely on their successful past innovations. For example, the inventor of the first floppy disk drive soon lost its digital storage market share to the inventor of the smaller disk drive. This pattern takes place in any industry in which organizations or companies fail to sustain innovation.

Our fear of uncertainty robs us from moving forward faster!

Let’s see what happened to Jonathan after he decided to move forward in the midst of uncertainty.

1 Samuel 14
11 So both of them showed themselves to the Philistine outpost. “Look!” said the Philistines. “The Hebrews are crawling out of the holes they were hiding in.” 12 The men of the outpost shouted to Jonathan and his armor-bearer, “Come up to us and we’ll teach you a lesson.”

So Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, “Climb up after me; the Lord has given them into the hand of Israel.”

13 Jonathan climbed up, using his hands and feet, with his armor-bearer right behind him. The Philistines fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer followed and killed behind him. 14 In that first attack Jonathan and his armor-bearer killed some twenty men in an area of about half an acre.

15 Then panic struck the whole army—those in the camp and field, and those in the outposts and raiding parties—and the ground shook. It was a panic sent by God.[a]

16 Saul’s lookouts at Gibeah in Benjamin saw the army melting away in all directions. 17 Then Saul said to the men who were with him, “Muster the forces and see who has left us.” When they did, it was Jonathan and his armor-bearer who were not there.

20 Then Saul and all his men assembled and went to the battle. They found the Philistines in total confusion, striking each other with their swords. 21 Those Hebrews who had previously been with the Philistines and had gone up with them to their camp went over to the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan. 22 When all the Israelites who had hidden in the hill country of Ephraim heard that the Philistines were on the run, they joined the battle in hot pursuit. 23 So on that day the Lord saved Israel, and the battle moved on beyond Beth Aven.

In your life, if you wait until you have certainty to move forward, you will miss so much of what God has for you!

As a campus, we have been in the midst of an uncertain future. Original search over 5 years ago, our leaders found a great spot: Crockett High School, but the door was not open for us to be there. Instead, we moved to Covington Middle School. We have had a great time at Covington! Many lives have been changed. People have grown in their faith. We have experienced beautiful community as a campus at Covington.

At the same time, as a middle school parking is limited. We are running out of room for the kids, and now we are meeting in the cafeteria rather than the auditorium. As a team, we realized, we need to move to three services in the fall at Covington or find somewhere else.

As you know, we’ve been searching all over South and Central Austin for a new place. We have been looking for a 24/7 venue where we can also host Restore groups, worship nights, youth group, mentoring kids, and a food pantry.

About 3 months ago, the Fine Arts Director of Crockett High School started going to Gateway. She then contacted us asking if we would consider moving to her school. Then we found out that one of the Vice Principals has been part of Gateway for 8 years! When I went to talk to the principal, he was pitching us to come them (rather than me pitching the idea to him)! Crockett H.S. has made lots of great improvements, and there are opportunities for us to mentor students. Crockett H.S. will be better Sunday experience for you, your kids, and your friends. It is a great corner location and has lots and lots of parking! Crockett H.S. is across street from Austin Community College at the corner of Stassney and Manchaca (just 1 mile South of Ben White, in between MOPAC and I-35) and walking distance from Strange Brew, a 24/7 cafe.

CrockettHighSchoolAustin Trees

 

 

Crockett Auditorium

Crockett Courtyard

 

We are still working out the details. There is still some uncertainty, and this move still requires trust.

We are also still looking for 24/7 spot to serve South Austin more effectively.

To be part of our efforts, get involved through the Life Giving Life Project!

Faith requires navigating in the midst of uncertainty.

Hebrews 11:1,6
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. 

God’s character never changes, but His ways and the way He moves changes all the time. He can be trusted because His heart remains the same. God’s message never changes but the methods should be changing all the time.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Erwin Raphael McManus, Chasing Daylight: Seize the Power of Every Moment (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2002), 65, 66.

[2] Ed Catmull, “How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity,” Harvard Business Review (September 2008), 3.

[3] Scott B. Anthony and others, The Innovator’s Guide to Growth: Putting Disruptive Innovation to Work (Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing, 2008), 225.

[4] Mitch Ditkoff and Val Vadeboncoeur, “50 Ways to Foster a Sustainable Culture of Innovation” (September 08, 2009). Idea Champions. http://www.ideachampions.com/weblogs/archives/2009/02/50_ways_to_fost_1.shtml (accessed 15 December 2009).

[5] Scott B Anthony, “Drive Personal Reinvention: Tactics for Improving Your Skills as an Innovator in Tough Times.” Harvard Business Review (June 01, 2009). http://hbr.org/product/drive-personal-reinvention-tactics-for-improving-y/an/3322BC-HCB-ENG?N=4294958505%2520516161%2520516167 (accessed December 15, 2009), 3.

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