Discerning the Way Forward – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #47

Dear Friends in Truth,

As a church planter, I have noticed that there is a certain rhythm to each year. The very beginning of the calendar is a key time, when everyone begins to re-focus after the bustle of the holidays. In January through March, new things happen in congregations, and unique growth is possible. The fall provides a similar window of opportunity. September and October are pivotal months in the life of new churches. Folks are reorienting after the craziness of summer and – just like after New Year’s – everyone is looking to establish routines and make new connections. This is an ideal time to launch initiatives, do outreach to our neighborhoods and invite seekers into the community.

For the last three years, our ups and downs at Capitol Hill Friends have followed seasonal patterns. The fall and New Year have brought new energy, opportunities and numerical growth. The summer and winter holidays have been accompanied by lower energy and reduced attendance. Over time, we have learned to roll with the punches, coming to anticipate these natural swings. We have adapted our programs and outreach to the rhythm of the seasons.

It came as no surprise when attendance and energy at Capitol Hill Friends plummeted in July and August. Not only is this time of year generally characterized by decline, but we had also had three of our core members move out of town in July. These were major losses, but I figured that the usual seasonal pattern would help cushion the blow. Things would pull together in September/October. The fall boost would rescue us.

But this fall has not stuck to the script. Energy has not risen. Attendance has not recovered. The summer slump has largely continued. This year is different.
This unexpected challenge may be good for us, in the same way that cod liver oil is beneficial – it tastes awful, but it has lots of vitamins. This fall’s “tough medicine” has caused us to seriously reevaluate our life as a community at Capitol Hill Friends. Who are we called to serve? What mission is God calling us to here in the city? What is our model for being a deeply rooted community in a highly transient urban area? How is God asking us to change in order to adapt ourselves to the needs of the culture we live in? Is God still calling us to plant a Quaker Meeting here in DC? These are questions we have held and considered all along, but they are taking on a new urgency.
I know that, to be faithful, I must be open to laying down this entire venture. Capitol Hill Friends does not belong to me, or even to the membership as a whole – it belongs to Jesus Christ. We must rely on him to show us the way forward. Whether we lay down this ministry, radically change our orientation as a group, or simply keep walking forward in faith, we must do it because Jesus calls us.

It is possible for an individual or small group to keep a project going for a while under their own strength. But not forever. After two or three years, fatigue sets in. Our enthusiasm is gradually replaced by bone-weariness. Everything seems to depend on us. Each step we take in our own strength is crushed by the weight of responsibility.

I suspect that the three year mark is a critical moment for a new community like Capitol Hill Friends. The honeymoon period is definitely over. We have had plenty of chances to see our own weakness and limitations. I know that I have gained a much fuller view of my own personal failings after three years of service to this community. The daily grind of local ministry has been powerful in exposing my true character. Of all the prayers I ask, one that God always answers with devastating immediacy is: “Lord, humble me.”

I hope that you will continue to lift me up in your prayers, and to ask that our Heavenly Father speak clearly to us at Capitol Hill Friends. We need guidance for how to move forward with our calling to be faithful witnesses for Christ’s Kingdom in Washington, DC. What form that should take, I do not know. But God does. I am counting on that.

In the love and mercy of Jesus,
Micah Bales