I remember learning to swim. I wanted to swim so badly that I would just jump in, over my head sometimes, and try as hard as I could to swim. All I could do is tread water (barely), grasp for help, or drown. None of these was what I desired, I wanted to SWIM. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get the hang of it. Then one summer I took swimming lessons. Every week, for the whole summer, I would go to a family friend’s house and this girl was going to teach me to swim. I didn’t learn to swim. I learned how to drown a little more slowly. A few things got in my way…
- I thought I knew what I was doing. I had seen people swim, how hard could it be? If those other kids could do it, surely I could. All I had to do is get out there and try harder, I didn’t need lessons. I could learn by simply trying harder by myself.
- I was impatient. I wanted to SWIM, not float. I wanted to be out there in the deep end with my friends, not in the shallow water learning to float on my back. Besides how was I supposed to relax and just float, which brings me to my next point.
- I did not trust. How was this girl, just a few years older than me, going to hold me up and keep me from drowning while I learned to swim? No way, not gonna happen, I can’t relax and drown.
- I did not have a qualified teacher. That girl from the neighborhood was well intentioned, but not an instructor. I needed someone with the skills to teach ME, this difficult, impatient, eager kid. She was a good swimmer, and if watching her swim had been the way to learn, I would have been swimming in a week.
So, I had all these things stacked against me. Failure was inevitable. It was a bad experience, and I didn’t want to try to learn the next summer, or the summer after that, even from a qualified instructor. It was several years later, in Boy Scouts, that I finally decided to get some real lessons. By then I could swim enough to jump off the diving board and not drown, but that’s it. I couldn’t swim very far, or very well for that matter. I could ‘not drown’. That was the extent of my skill.
Finally, I was a little more mature, and thanks to the Boy Scout programs, I got some better swimming training, and was able to even get a swimming merit badge, and eventually was even able to teach others to swim.
Recently, a discussion with friends started me thing about swimming lessons, and how it it a lot like many people’s desire for ministry. We want to minister to people so badly, we are so eager that we jump in over our heads, and all we can do is work really hard, barely keeping our heads above the water, possibly even drowning. Some thoughts on that matter:
- We think we know what we’re doing. How hard can it be, other people are doing it. Why would we need ‘training’ to do something that looks so easy.
- We are impatient. We don’t wait on God’s timing. Sometimes, we need some time in the ‘kiddie pool’ to learn the basics of ministry, before we go out into the deep.
- We do not trust. I remember trying to teach my son Michael, how to swim. He had gotten water in his mouth and was choking. I tried to reassure him that I wasn’t going to let anything happen to him. The look in his eyes said that he didn’t believe that. I believe that sometimes we get that way with God. We don’t fully trust Him, so we try to go do things on our own instead of waiting for Him to put His plan into motion in our lives.
- We do not have qualified teachers. If you’re not connected to a local church, and a church that focuses on equipping, then you’re not goig to become equipped to do the work of the ministry. Ephesians 4:11-12 says that Jesus gave “some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry”. If you’re not doing more than sitting in a church service once or twice a week, you’re not becoming equipped. Simply watching someone do something, no matter how good they are, isn’t going to prepare you.
Much like my bad experience with learning to swim, I also had bad experiences in ministry. I got in too deep, too fast, and I had to quit because I was drowning. I wasn’t where God wanted me, and it was a constant struggle. Sure, I tried hard, and for brief moments I was doing things right, but my lack of training, and my lack of patience got me to a place where I couldn’t stay above the water. It was a painful experience, and one that I didn’t want to repeat. So I didn’t even try. I gave up. It was years before I really even wanted to try.
One last thought. That girl that tried to teach me to swim probably nearly drowned once or twice herself trying to keep me from dragging her to the bottom of the pool, because I convinced her I was ready for the deep end. I still wonder how many people there are in the ministry that I almost drowned, who were simply trying to teach me…