It took three years of hard work to get our Telugu Service going. The concept is very simple and easy to organize; have a worship service on Sunday afternoons in the Telugu language. Piece of cake. And yet, it took three years of fumbling and bumbling to arrive at this easy and successful ministry solution. The leadership of the Telugu service and I tried all sorts of ministry ideas before we came up with the one that worked. It would be very fair of you to ask, why did it take so long? The answer to that question is very simple; starting something from nothing is very, very difficult. There is a good reason small business’ and new churches fail at a high rate – entrepreneurial success is never guaranteed.
“Success is 99 percent failure” is a quote from Soichiro Honda, founder of the very successful auto company. I have repeated this quote over and over again as I have pursued my ministry. It comforts me to know that I am not the only one to fail more than I succeed. My ministry has been to small churches, and that means that I don’t have a lot of people resources, or money resources to create new ministries. But I am a natural spiritual entrepreneur, I am always working on new ministries. I have been involved in six new church plants over the years and three have failed, two have succeeded, and one, First Baptist’s Latino ministry, has just started and is looked very good at this moment. I have also attempted to create numerous other ministries’ and programs, most of which ended up as disappointments. I’ve tried just about everything that popped into my head. If I read about a successful program in Texas, I would fling it at my church and see if it would stick to the wall. I figured a successful program or ministry will work anywhere and everywhere – HA! I figured that the writers were successful; therefore they must know what they are talking about – HA! I figured that the key to successful ministry is the right plan – HA, HA, HA! Instead, I have learned that Soichiro Honda is a very wise man.
There is no guarantee in the Bible that we will be successful in our endeavors. Let that idea soak in a minute - because we are surrounded by people who preach and teach the opposite. They are wrong. The prosperity gospel ministers ignore Jesus telling his followers that we will be beaten and thrown in jail for preaching the gospel (Matt. 10:17). They pay no attention to Jesus saying that Paul will suffer as he goes off to minister to the Gentiles (Acts 9:16). And how many pastors and/or self-help gurus have mentioned the martyr Stephen who after a tremendous sermon is stoned to death (Acts 7:57-58). Stephen’s death does not fit nicely into our American success story mythology. When Jesus returns, God guarantees success. Until then, there are no guarantees.
So I have taken two lessons from my experiences as a pastor entrepreneur. The first is to get used to disappointment, because it’s going to happen whether you like it or not. If the guy who created Honda had set backs, you better believe that you will too. The second is more important than the first. Persistence is the only way to achieve your goals in life and in the ministry. Keeping in mind the no guarantee of success rule, refusing to give up is the only way to strive to reach our visions. Jesus says that if we persist in our prayers, God will answer them (Luke 18:1-8). This is very true. Despite the many disappointments that I have faced, my few successes have come from my refusal to give up. God always answers our prayers, but rarely in the way we expect.
I continue to cook up new ministry ideas, though I am much more selective today than I used to be. I guess with experience comes wisdom. Either that or I just got tired of looking like a fool all of the time. However, I have been blessed by the ministries that have been successful. And that is where I have found the answers to my prayers.
God bless you,