One time a striking circle of ten got together for a late-night brainstorm about the future development of Circle of Hope Broad and Washington. It was stimulating. While we were discussing great things, there was a little emotional tune playing in the background. It was almost like a minor-keyed theme in a mystery movie that lets you know something scary is going to happen, a note of fear [or 30 minutes of it!]. Growing a church to hiving size means making new relationships, which most of us like, but making new relationships includes something most of us don’t like: the ask. The tune kept building to the point when all the ideas would come down to the ask. Then it got loud.
The tragedy of NO
My mother liked taking me shopping for groceries as child. For one thing, my mother was so extroverted she didn’t like to do anything alone and I was available. But I think the main reason I got to go was that I was rather entertaining as I interacted with the various people we would meet in the aisles. I would ask people about themselves, ask about their clothes, ask about their groceries. And if they wouldn’t talk to me, I would ask my mother about them. My mother found this boundary-breaking amusing. The downside for her was that I would also ask for every single thing on the shelves that looked mildly interesting or tasty. So very early on, I had a lot of experience with the word NO. I could see my self not long after when I was buying snacks for the Sunday Meeting. A young boy was lying in the candy aisle screaming under the watch of his bemused dad because Skittles were not on their list — the tragedy of being told NO is still very real for the under-six set.
I was relatively oblivious to being told NO as a child. I just kept on expressing my hope for Skittles until I got a YES. If I got one YES out of a hundred NOs, that kept me going. But as I got older and understood that NO often has more meaning than whether I am going to get a piece of candy, I got a LOT more reticent. I began to feel rejected by NO. One hundred NOs of rejection were not balanced with a single YES. I began to feel generally rejected and didn’t want to ask at all, lest I get rejected some more. The scary tune of the ask became background music in my brain.
Having intimates who lived a general YES to me did not necessarily make up for the times they dared to say NO to me. Even having a God who Paul could say this about didn’t solve all my problems:
For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silas and Timothy—was not “Yes” and “No,” but in him it has always been “Yes.” For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:19-20
Even God did not consistently convince me that being rejected, being an “imposition,” or being “unwanted” was less important than being free to be myself, being confident that I am safe no matter what, and living in a state of grace that is “YES” to me. I still was nervous about asking.
Fear of the ask throttles church planting
This nervousness about asking makes church planting hard (I know this personally!). Some of us are loathe to ask someone to come to an event (like our cell or the Sunday Meeting) because it seems so aggressive and could easily incite rejection. But our fear can be even more fundamental. Even when some people get a turn to tell their story, they are still reticent to ask someone to listen. If Jesus is included in their story, then they often feel like they are being too aggressive!
Meanwhile, church planting is all about the asking. It never really gets that easy for most of us. Because we usually experience many forms of NO before we get to a YES. Should we therefor learn to avoid asking so we avoid suffering? Should we just pass by the Skittles without a peep of desire? Should we just pass by people who might like to know Jesus because we have learned never to risk loving someone who might reject us?
I told the circle of hive-interested people that night about when I was an evangelistic wildman in college. I had days when I vowed to ask everyone I met to come to our new Bible study in our side-by-side apartments. That meant I would be asking all sorts of people I was sure would say NO, unless a miracle happened. Many did say NO. But a surprising number didn’t and an even more surprising number became new disciples of Jesus.
Its been more than a few years since I was in college. Since then advertisers have become so oppressive (i.e., AT&T Station is still travesty!) that anyone with love in their heart feels like they should not add to the asking. That’s just a general, devilish thing that has happened to us to make us keep quiet. No one even gets to hear the YES we have for them because we are all too busy telling AT&T NO for the millionth time, like some five-year-old in the store who never learns. It is tiring. We don’t want to add to the asking, even if we are asking in the name of Jesus! Someone might think we are merely marketing!
NO is even harder to bear in the love zone
Even more so, it is hard to ask because we don’t like getting rejected. Asking in the name of Jesus is more like asking, “Do you want to make love?” than it is asking, “Do you want to buy a box of Girl Scout cookies?” (Samoas are still the best. A man came up to me in Fresh Grocer a few weeks ago and asked me to buy some from his daughter. I did). Works of faith are intrinsically intimate. They are in the love zone. If we ever hive off another congregation, it will be because a substantial number of people trust the YES in Jesus enough to bear the NOs of people who aren’t ready yet or, for whatever reason, don’t want them and Jesus right now.
Nevertheless, like perpetual askers at a middle school dance, we’ll get up and cross over to a person who has a lot of power over our emotions and ask them to dance. There’s no hiding it; we’re asking because we like them. In Christ we love the about-to-be-asked, already, even before we find out what their response will be. We aren’t selling a mere product; we can get hurt if they reject us! Our love for Jesus and them is built in to the “product” if we are “selling” at all. And it is a hurtable love, just like Jesus is a hurtable God. So asking is no small thing. The music of the fear of NO could drown out the dance music!
It is no wonder that we sometimes hate to ask. But if we don’t ask, it could hurt even more. It will certainly hurt our chances of multiplying if we won’t do it. I am going to keep meditating on that YES I can count on from God so I don’t pass by too many more seekers fearing they might reject Jesus in me.