The Death of a Vision

John ArmstrongPersonal

In 1991 I had an idea. There should be a quarterly journal that had the style and respect of a seminary journal but a readership that would primarily be church leadership, both lay and pastoral. That idea became the Reformation & Revival Journal, renamed last year as the ACT 3 Review. That journal was the beginning of this mission ministry we call ACT 3, leading me to resign my pastorate in 1992 in order to advance this wider work of publishing, writing and teaching. That quarterly journal, a 224-page bound periodical that was widely respected and used by many colleges and seminaries across North America, will now cease print publication with the current issue, 15:2. This final issue should be mailed next week. Rarely have I had to make a decision that was this difficult to make. It felt like the painful death of a long friend and a treasured vision. I knew the day would come but I had always thought someone else would make it for me after my demise.

Based upon the wonderful input of about fifty trusted men and women, my own inner sense of wisdom and peace, and the loving and forthright counsel of a wife who knows me best, this decision was finally made five days ago. The obvious fact that a $25,000 per year loss to ACT 3 can no longer be justified, and (most importantly) the continued pressure that the production of this publication placed upon me personally by exacerbating several health issues, I came to believe that we should cease the print publication of this journal immediately. We will send a letter to our subscribers in the next few weeks offering several options for how we will honor their payments.

There is some good news in this development that appears to follow the wisdom discovered during the process. The overwhelming majority of my consultants concurred with me that we should keep the journal as an online periodical. We plan to eventually put all of our back issues, nearly fifteen years worth of material (numbering over 13,000 pages), on our Web site. We will then continue to add new articles to this Web-based journal feature quarter-by-quarter. We will call this new publication the ACT 3 Review: An Online Journal for Faith, Church and Culture. I am already recruiting a number of fine writers who will contribute regularly to this site and provide the reader with a reliable source of insight and teaching. This format will also allow for forums and discussion groups to form around articles and reviews. We will very likely offer a free online subscription for a good deal of the journal’s content, along with a very inexpensive annual premium subscription that allows complete access to all back issues and all current content. (This is the way a number of modern publications operate in a Web presented format.) This decision will also allow us to still offer the content that people have come to expect from our ministry without the burden and financial pressures that have hindered my own freedom to continue to minister both widely and well. I will try to secure volunteer help to put this material on the Web so that I will not be under the intense pressure to meet deadlines or to deal with print publication management issues as in the past. All in all, this new approach not only makes sense, as a business and ministry decision, but over the long haul it could open an entirely new ministry context for ACT 3.

The counsel given to me resulted in the following conclusions:

1. My health has to finally override the continuation of the journal as a print publication since this has been breaking down my life on a regular basis. I simply cannot handle this any longer.

2. The evidence of this pressure, and the attendant depression that has come from it, prompted some of my best friends to urge me to grow toward a new personal freedom that would let go of my past dreams and perfectionism so that I could lean into what God now wants me to do with my gifts of writing and teaching in the future. Learning to let a treasured vision die is never easy but the joy that can come will most likely surprise me I feel sure.

3. The development of this ministry over the past fifteen years, and the response of most people to print journals of this type, warrants letting go of this portion of our ministry so that we can invest what God has given to us more faithfully in the church at large; e.g., teaching churches and assisting pastors in mission, prayer for revival, and writing for the renewal of the church in both mind and spirit. Understanding that these two venues (teaching and writing) are what I need to do with the years ahead of me helps me focus as I have not been able to do for the last five-plus years.

What I have discovered about myself, while making this hard decision, is that I have this deep need to perfect everything I touch and then a profound desire to be appreciated for the significance of my work. The words of John the Baptist, uttered when he saw Jesus walking in his presence, must become the goal of my life far more consistently: “He must increase and I must decrease.” Like every Christian I can say those words in my heart and mean them. The reality is that I am still a product of a world, a culture and an evangelical context that tells me that I need more significance and influence than I seem to have. This temptation must be met with open and vigilant resistance. As hard as this recent decision has been I am trying to learn this lesson in the process. Pray that I will.