I was inspired by Diana Nyad’s swim from Cuba to Florida at the age of 64. I was inspired not so much that she completed it, but that she tried again. And again. And again. This was her 5th attempt. 4 attempts ended in failure to complete the goal. Yet, she suited up, jumped in the water and tried again.
Two questions are nagging at me as I reflect upon Nyad’s swim:
#1: Am I willing to attempt something that seems like such a stretch? It’s not hard to imagine myself swimming a couple of laps in my neighborhood pool. But it’s another thing to consider swimming for 52 hours in shark and jellyfish infested ocean. In ministry, we often to stick to what is easily doable, a bit comfortable, something we know without a doubt that we have the capacity to pull off. But I wonder if God isn’t asking us to stretch a bit, to attempt something that the only way we’ll be able to pull it off is if God is in this thing. I am struck by Jesus’ sending out of the disciples in Luke 9: “He gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them to proclaim the kingdom of God and heal the sick.” Wow. I look at that and it’s a bit like the 110-mile swim through jellyfish. It seems impossible. And yet, I also think that God is asking us to attempt something greater than a canned food collection for the hungry. Like…go get involved in the life of a family that struggles with food security, love them, encourage them, listen to them, feed them, help them with their resume, tutor their kids, speak some truth into their lives, pray for them. Engaging in ministry at this level is so much harder, so much messier, such a bigger stretch than dropping off a bag of canned goods. But it may just be what we’re meant to do, by the power of God.
#2: Am I willing, in the face of failure, to try again? Challenges come at us all the time in ministry. And voices of others, and our own internal voice of self-doubt, can remind us of all the reasons why we shouldn’t try again. I’m sure Diana had plenty of people tell her, “You’re too old to do this!” “This can’t be done!” But, what is God telling us? Is God closing a door? Or, is God waiting for us to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and get back in the water? I once tried to get a series of small groups off the ground, and it went nowhere. Twice. But I never for one minute believed that we weren’t supposed to be working on discipling people in a deeper way. So, I tried again from a little different angle. And, the third try, the ministry started to take root.
In an interview, Diana reflected on her motivation to keep going: “We blink and another decade passes. I don’t want to reach the end of my life and regret not having given my days everything in me to make them worthwhile.” That’s a good word. We have but a finite amount of days on this earth. Will we use them for things that are worthwhile? Or will we just go through the motions, swim a couple of laps, and move on?
I work with people and churches who dream of starting new works of ministry. And I hear people describe the new worshiping community they would love to start. But most of them won’t ever do it. Because it doesn’t come with a full-time salary with benefits. Because it will take everything in them to start this thing, and they prefer a more gentle work/life balance. Because others are telling them that it’s a pipe dream. Because there is no guarantee it will work out. I’m inspired by Diana Nyad, who assembled another team, slathered some anti-jellyfish crème on her body, and got going. And, after a grueling swim, found herself on Florida sand living out her dream.
Shannon Kiser is the director of the East Coast Presbyterian Center of New Church Innovation based out of northern Virginia. She is field staff for the Office of Church Growth, and parish associate at Riverside Presbyterian Church, a church planting church in Sterling, VA. She is involved in the 1001 New Worshiping Communities movement, and works with presbyteries, existing churches, and potential planters to fan the flames of new, creative ministries. Shannon lives in Springfield, VA with her husband and two daughters.