John Alan Turner

Speaker, Author, Mentor, Coach, Facilitator

Desiring the Impossible

I married a woman who was much smarter than I was. I've worked in the 13-and-a-half years since then to make up some of that ground and close the gap. When we met, she read Schaeffer and Buber and Lewis (oh my!). I, on the other hand, was still reading Max Lucado and other books of that genre. Not to be critical of my fellow authors (and I have a lot of respect for Max and others), but I was not reading anything that could be considered "deep" -- certainly nothing with footnotes. Meanwhile, Jill was plowing her way through Tozer (who manages to be both deep and concise at the same time).

I've graduated somewhat in my reading tastes now. I read "big-boy" books with obscure titles and often-baffling subtitles (my personal favorite being Robert H. Gundry's Jesus the Word according to John the Sectarian: A Paleofundamentalist Manifesto for Contemporary Evangelicalism, especially Its Elites, in North America).

Still, there are some writers I cannot read without thinking of my wife. She was the first to pronounce their names for me, the first person I knew who actually read these dusty, old books (at least the first person I ever knew who did so and managed to be attractive at the same time).

So, I am pleased that Frost & Hirsch rely so heavily in Martin Buber's insights. Pleased because he is one of the truly remarkable thinkers of the last 100 years; pleased because whenever I read something from him it makes me think of my smart wife.

All of that was a completely unrelated tangent to what I want to share with you today.

Frost & Hirsch ask us to think about how we would do church differently if we started over with a clean slate. Then they ask us to think about why we are not working towards those forms.

Most of us simply accept the status quo with a sigh of resignation. Some of us have rolled up our sleeves and devoted our lives to moving things along, but this is hard work -- not for the faint of heart. I'll readily admit that it chased me out of fulltime church work. It proved to be too difficult with too little reward, so I removed myself from the front lines.

I'm rethinking that stance lately and am considering jumping back into working with a local church again. But the scars still remain, and my heart is for those who remain laboring in the trenches.

What I've encountered during those four-and-a-half years is appalling. Sure, I've seen some good things and some healthy churches. But mostly I've seen people who have settled for incremental change rather than full-scale revolution. Jesus was a revolutionary, but there's little (almost none) of that going on among his people these days.

Perhaps we have become too realistic in our approach to ministry. In so doing, we seem to have given up on wholesale change or (dare I say) revival among God's people. If we examine the great heroes from the Bible, however, we see that they were willing to tilt with windmills if God prompted it. Martin Buber (now you understand why the whole prologue about my wife was prompted) says it this way:

Once the great doer expected to alter the face of the world with his deed, and to inform all becoming with his own will. He did not feel that he was subject to the conditions of this world, for he was grounded in the unconditionality of God, whose Word he sensed in the decisions he made as clearly as he felt his blood in his veins. This confidence in the suprahuman has been undermined; man's consciousness of God and deed had already been stifled in his cradle; all one could hope for was to become the exponent of some small "progress." And whoever can no longer desire the impossible will be able to achieve nothing more than the all-too-probable. Thus the power of the spirit was replaced by busyness, and the might of sacrifice by bargaining skill.

"Whoever can no longer desire the impossible will be able to achieve nothing more than the all-too-probable."

Wow.

I believe this is a problem in churches. We no longer desire the impossible and have settled for accomplishing nothing more than the predictable and probable.

You might disagree (if you do, please be charitable), and perhaps things are going gangbusters at your church. If they are, please let us all know!

Let's talk about this a little, though. How can we inspire current and next-generation leaders to desire the impossible?