Thursday, January 13, 2011

Serendipities--Books, Life, Church

I'm not sure an accidental book is possible, but if it is then MissioRelate is just that. I sent it to the publisher this week and as I reflect on it I see just how much it is a serendipity. Some books are intentional. I can envision the end product and I can develop it according to that plan. But this book is just about the polar opposite. Let me list the reasons:

1. I never intended to write this book. I had plans to start working on a couple other projects. However three chapters were deleted from the Missional Small Groups book I did with Baker when we realized that they were targeting a church leadership audience, while MSG targets groups leaders.
2. I shared these three chapters with some pastors and they found them helpful. So I thought it would be good to get them in print. My original idea was to simply give the material away for free but then I pitched the idea of revising The Relational Way and including the chapters in it. Randall Neighbour liked the idea. So I made the changes.
3. When Randall opened the file for The Relational Way to modify it, he discovered that it was corrupt and he would have to redesign the book from scratch. This got me thinking. I had enough rough stuff drafted or ideas in undeveloped form that I could quickly pull together a 25000 word book. So we agreed to a new book release instead of a revision of the old one.

4. As I started working on the book, I found that I needed to work out a lot more of my thinking than originally thought. In addition to the 3 original chapters I found myself writing much more. The book accidentally ended up being about 55000 words.

The writing of this book is a bit like how I'm learning life works. I know there are life coaches and personal improvement authors who talk about how to have a dream, be intentional, set a plan and work the plan. This is what they say successful people do. Honestly I've tried that approach. I've written down hundreds of life purposes statements. I've identified my priorities and roles so many times I cannot count the various versions that I've written. I'm a very intentional person and I've worked hard at trying to develop a successful life (whatever that means). And while I've found these things helpful in that they do provide focus, I've also found that so much of life is about working with the serendipities that come our way.

An old friend used to say in our meetings together "Life is what happens when we are making our plans." And I must admit that almost everything that I would consider in my top ten blessings of life are unexpected surprises. My wife, my children, my job, my writing, my friends, my education and even my relationship with God--how it started and even how it has advanced--has been a result of unexpected turns in life. It's in the unexpected where we learn the beauty of life.

When Leo Tolstoy first started what became War and Peace--he intended to write about one very short, very specific incident in history. Years later, he completed a panoramic historical novel which has been said to be the best ever written. Writing like this stands in contrast to formula writing that we can pick up in the mystery or romance sections of the bookstore. Years ago I went to a writer's conference where I learned the basic formula for writing a novel like that. The presenter said that all I needed to do is to fill in the blanks--characters, circumstances, etc.--and the formula would carry the book.

Now I don't claim to say that my book is anything like Tolstoy's masterpiece. I'm only saying that this experience of writing reminds me of life. While I wish life was under my control and that my plans actually worked as I want them to, I've found that good life planning is much more like a dance where we learn to respond to the serendipities of the dance floor.

This brings me to how we make plans as a church. If being missional is about being intentional and focused, then all we will produce is formula churches. They might work according to our plans and even accomplish great things. We might even grow, add new small groups and even do things that bless the community. The issue is one of control. We too often think that leadership is about being in control so that we can accomplish our plans. But when under the control of such a myth we most likely will fail to deal with the realities we find on the dance floor of life.

What does this mean? More to come. BlogBooster-The most productive way for mobile blogging. BlogBooster is a multi-service blog editor for iPhone, Android, WebOs and your desktop

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