My friend Steve Brown recently recalled that Malcolm Muggeridge—the British journalist, author, satirist and Christian—once said when he was an old man that he sometimes awoke in the morning with one foot on earth and one in heaven. “Sometimes,” Muggeridge said, “I wake up surprised that I’m here.”
I not quite to this point yet but I can picture it if I live long enough. I do know, along with Steve, that I wake up at the end of August saying, “I’m surprised we are still here and doing this mission of ACT 3.”
Don’t misunderstand me. I am not surprised that I am still able to minister. I will do ministry whether ACT 3 succeeds or not. But God clearly has shown us that he has a continued purpose for this mission that we formed back in 1991 in my family room in Carol Stream. There have been times, however, when I really wondered.
I wondered when we began to lose donations in the early part of this decade. My open commitment to ecumenism cost us dearly. This really began in May of 1999 when we did our first trans-denominational conference at the University of Dubuque. I still recall the letters and calls that we got about having speakers from the “wrong” places. The list of plenary speakers included Carl Braaten (ELCA), William Abraham (United Methodist, photo at right), Donald Bloesch (United Church of Christ), J. I. Packer (Anglican) and me (now Reformed Church in America). We lost a lot of donors and hundreds of thousands of dollars from May of 1999 until about 2003. Once the bleeding stopped we closed an office and laid off staff. This was heartbreaking because it made me let go of some very dear friends in the process. We lost 60% of our total giving over the course of about three years. It was very stressful and thus I wondered, “Will we be here next year?”
My open commitment to think outside the box of certain kinds of rigid Reformed conservatism has also cost us very dearly. The verbal and written attacks of some leaders assured opposition against us in certain contexts. Misunderstanding followed. Though I have sought to “be at peace with all men” there have been times when men (I can’t think of one woman who has done this) have simply refused to be at peace with me. I have offered to meet with them and discuss things in private. I have been refused more times than I can remember. The instances that hurt the most were where men who I thought were good friends simply stopped writing or calling. Their actions spoke volumes. (There have been some wonderful exceptions. There are still a number of friends who do not always agree with me but who have chosen to not make this a test of relationship!)
So at the end of the summer 2009 I am amazed some days that we are still here. I am also grateful that so many of you love me, read me and support me and ACT 3. I am profoundly grateful to those who have donated to ACT 3 this year. In the last few months we have faced, like so many non-profits, a crisis in funding. The recession has hurt us. By God’s grace our immediate needs have been recently met thus we have kept current with our greatly revised budget.
While all of this sifting and shaking has gone on God has recently given me a deep sense of what is ahead. The vision of ACT 3 is simple: “To equip leaders in the unity of Christ’s mission.” We are working very diligently to create a strategic plan to carry out this vision in the next five years. Included in this vision are events that will follow the publication of my book Your Church Is Too Small, next March. Also included are articles and an expanded Web presence. God willing, we will launch a new initiative to train small cohort groups of leaders for the purpose of transforming the church. This new Center for Transformissional Leadership is taking shape and more information will come as we develop it. I will also begin working with an intern this week, a senior at Wheaton College. This senior leads the Ecumenical Society on campus. We have some plans to reach more students as we share together.
I have learned a number of things along the way. There is one thing I have learned again and again. God requires us to persevere through dark days and sunny days. He does not promise to always send sunshine but he does promise to always be with us if we are with him. I have not done everything well I assure you but I have served with my goal clearly before me—to exalt the glory of Christ and to pursue the making of disciples by equipping leaders for unity in Christ’s mission (Matthew 28:18-20 and John 17:20-23). Your love and support helps to make sure that we are still around in the next few years. If you would like to help us again, or for the first time, you can do so at ACT 3 online.