When I watch Shark Tank, I can’t help but to be impressed by the entrepreneurs who not only have taken the risk to create something new, but also have the perseverance to see it through from idea to product or service. If you’ve never watched Shark Tank, it’s a made-for-TV opportunity for entrepreneurs to pitch a product to 5 investors, who will either become a strategic investor and make a deal, or dramatically say, “I’m out.” Sometimes a deal is made for equity of the business in exchange for cash, and sometimes the entrepreneur walks away empty-handed.
It is a fact of reality that new ideas are rejected dozens or even hundreds of times before they are widely accepted, if they are accepted at all. Therefore, these entrepreneurs really need to believe in their product and sacrifice to make it profitable. The founder of Starbucks, for example, was rejected by 217 investors before someone invested in the coffee house chain. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories were passed over by many publishers. Indeed, I would say that almost everyone who ever got published, began a business or invented something new was told “No” more times than they could count. Everyone agreed that that they had a bad book, idea or model on their hands, and they shouldn’t quit their day job.
For some people, that’s good advice. More businesses than not, more books than not, more ideas than not, are bad. They won’t make money. The entrepreneur really does need to keep his or her day job. But sometimes, it is hard to know which projects will succeed and which projects will fail, and only by perseverance will the truth come out. After all, if the Starbucks guy was rejected hundreds of times but eventually became a billionaire, who’s to say the same isn’t true for me? So for those who stick to it and make it a success, we admire them for their perseverance. They are the stuff of legend. They inspire us to keep on even when the times are hard.
But what do we say about those who are persevering but fail? Well, that’s where the all-too-common definition of insanity comes in. By now, we all know what insanity is, right? Insanity is “doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results.” Yeah, that’s pretty much the definition of every human being who has ever been committed to a cause. But it seems the “insane” ones are the ones who experience failure. The “perseverant” are the ones who succeed. And sometimes the line between the two is a lot thinner than we’d like to think. No doubt a certain amount of good fortune and chance meetings goes into an idea being a success.
Why, just a few years ago I had this awesome idea to write a novel that acted as a defense of the resurrection. Heck, I even wrote half of it. Then I realized that a book with the same idea had already been written and Antonio Banderas had already been in a movie based on the book. If I was born in 1969 rather than 1979, Antonio Banderas might have been in my book’s movie adaptation!
This problem of knowing the difference between insanity and perseverance applies to life in the Church as well. Perseverance is most definitely a Biblical virtue. Paul says that love always perseveres (1 Cor. 13:7). He tells us to “be joyful in hope, patient [the same Greek word for persevere] in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Romans 12:12). The author of Hebrews tells us to “endure hardship as discipline” [also the same Greek word]. (Hebrews 12:7). And James says “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial.” (James 1:12). Also see James 5:11 and 1 Peter 2:20.
Sometimes, what we do in church really looks like insanity. After all, how often do things change in the life of the church? How often do we do the same thing again and again? And how often do the results change? Should we even strive for dramatically different results? Are we foolish for calmly accepting the same thing week in and week out?
In short, how do we know when we are faithfully persevering or foolishly being insane? If you have a new product or idea to bring to the market, don’t ask me. I’m a terrible judge of such things. But in the life of the church, it all hinges on whether or not we’re being faithful to our task. Are we living by the Great Commission as found in Matthew 28:19? Are we doing life together as seen in Acts 2:42? Are we teaching the “whole counsel of God” as Paul did in Acts 20:27? Are we staying true to the one and only Gospel? Are we proclaiming Christ to the world and never denying him? Are we faithfully administering the sacraments? If the answer is yes, then, in general, we shall carry on, in spite of the results. That is our bottom line.
In the meantime, we should also be very careful to try new evangelical methods and activities. We should welcome every visitor as the precious guest that they are. We should be forthcoming in our desire to grow as a community. For perseverance does not have to mean we are content to do poor ministry. It really just means we’re content with what God provides when we do the best ministry we can.