September holds enormous excitement for me. Why? Because I’ll fulfill a long-held dream. A book I’ve written, a book I believe will help many people, will be on bookshelves all over the country. I can hardly believe I’m fortunate enough to have this incredible opportunity.
But September is six months away. That intervening space is filled with stress for me. Why? Because I’ve never been here before. Between now and September, there are all kinds of things I’m supposed to do to give my book the very best chance of reaching the most people, and I have no idea what I’m doing.
You may not be a writer, and yet I think you probably relate to this emotional experience. You have a journey you need to take into unfamiliar territory. The uncertainty and the risk bring up fear.
I had an experience this past weekend that taught me an important piece of wisdom for those moments. There is one thing you should do when you’re walking a new path without a map. This one thing transforms the journey.
A few months ago an invitation was extended to me to attend a writer’s Mastermind hosted by Frank Viola. Frank is a prolific author with a tractor-trailer full of practical wisdom about the publishing process. It seemed like a good way for me to get the map I wanted. So, I signed up.
That mastermind was one of the best things I’ve ever done—and the real value was a complete surprise.
Many Surprises that taught me a lesson.
The weekend was full of surprises, but those surprises led me to the one thing we all can do when we’re walking into uncharted territory without a map.
The first surprise was the people. I was expecting a group of writers and aspiring writers. That was true, but there was something else. This was also a group of people who intensely love Jesus and who are done “playing church,” living within the artificial constraints of a broken system.
They came from a wide variety of church traditions and theological streams, and yet everyone was ready to step out into something new and different. They all wanted to make a difference in the world with their words and actions. Their passion was contagious, spilling out in spontaneous conversation that was hard to contain.
The second surprise was that I went expecting to be a student, and I found myself being a collaborator and encourager. It wasn’t just me; it was everyone. We all learned from our host, and yet every person in the room put their best out on the table. No one held back. There was no hiding, no secret “proprietary information” that couldn’t be shared. Everyone jumped in feet first to support and encourage everyone else.
The third surprise is that I didn’t get what I came for; I got something better. I came hoping to get a step-by-step roadmap for the next six months. I certainly got some invaluable information, but I didn’t get the roadmap I had wanted. What I got instead was a community of people committed to walking with me through my uncertainty.
Everyone offered what they had, committing to stay connected, to support each other with their best ideas, resources, and connections. They’ve even begun laying plans to get together again next year!
I expected to come home with a to-do list. Instead, I came home with a whole team of people invested in helping me make the biggest impact I can. I have the same commitment toward them.
Church where you least expect it.
You’re probably not a writer, and you might be thinking: “That’s great for you, Marc. But it doesn’t help me.” Well, hang tight a moment while I connect some dots. I went to a writer’s mastermind. I expected a professional development event. The level of conversation, the personal sharing, the deep realizations people were having about themselves, the commitment people made to bear one another’s burdens, the passion for Jesus—It was nothing less than church.
Our wide diversity of theological and social views didn’t divide us; instead, they broadened and enriched the conversation. Everyone shared the best of what they had to offer freely in an atmosphere was generosity and grace. The authors around the circle had a wide range of success, including one who was a multiple-time best-selling author. But instead of this causing jealousy and competition (as I’ve seen in nearly every other writer’s gathering I’ve ever been to) it elevated everyone in the group.
The authenticity of our conversation pushed us quickly past discussions of strategy and best practices, into conversations that touched the depths of our hearts, our sense of identity and calling. There were even deep wounds of the heart that found healing!
This experience reminded me in a flesh-and-blood way of what we all need when we’re walking in uncertainty. Having a map is nice, but better than a map is having companions on the trail, especially when some of those companions have walked this way before.
God made us to live in community, but this is something much deeper than just having people we know around us. It’s something more compelling than sitting beside the same people every week at church, quietly facing the same direction.
Community, the way God intended it, calls us to be our best selves. It reminds us of our purpose and calling. It connects us with people who are not content to let us float. It stretches us and moves us forward.
This is what church is supposed to be, yet so often it isn’t. We hold back because we don’t want to let others in too deeply, but then we stay isolated. We don’t tell our whole truth because we’re afraid we won’t be heard, or accepted, or loved, but then we stay lonely. We don’t listen to what God is up to in the hearts of people who are different from us, especially people we disagree with theologically or politically. As a result, our perspective narrows and hardens, and we lose sight of God’s incredible capacity to operate outside out boxes and expectations. We worry about giving too much, and we find ourselves living in relationships that feel small and stingy, instead of generous and graceful.
Get this community. Find it. Or Make it.
I was floored by my experience. It was nothing like what I expected, and so much better than anything I could have imagined. I was encouraged as a writer, but more deeply, I was challenged on how I live in relationship and how I do church.
If you are walking a path with no map, don’t go alone. Whether in your professional life, personal life or in your church life. You were meant to do life as a part of a community. If that community is reflecting the character of God, it will be other-centered and self-sacrificing. That’s what I experienced this weekend.
Each of us needs a community like this—a place where we are mentored, and we mentor, where we are encouraged, and we encourage, a place where we are lifted, and at the same time, we help bear the burden of another.
Make it your highest priority to find this kind of group. If you can’t find it, create it. Don’t be limited by the structures that exist around you. Don’t let church leaders tell you “We tried that before and it doesn’t work,” or “We don’t do it that way around here.”
I have experienced this kind of community, but this weekend was a vibrant reminder of how crucial this is for our journey. I’m going to be making the adjustments in my life necessary to continue in this kind of community. You would do well to do the same.