I hate to be misunderstood. I know my inner intentions. I recognize my motives. But I found great comfort recently. I read this quote by Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, “You have to be willing to be misunderstood if you’re going to innovate.”
Even though it has been nearly 30 years ago, I’ve not forgotten the comment by a peer of mine. I was embarrassed because it was in front of other peers. But it was more than just embarrassment. I was angry. I had been misunderstood. And, my motives and my intentions were questioned.
Here’s the backstory. I had just started a new church a few years before that encounter. We had started to buy land to build future church facilities. But it wasn’t an ordinary land purchase. We were doing something very innovative at the time. I’ve been told this was the first project of its kind in our city. I was also told by a few that it “couldn’t be done.” I was reminded of the fact that someone in the middle might be a holdout and not sell to the church and then the project couldn’t be completed. You see, we were assembling three adjacent city blocks of properties, individually held by 48 residential land-owners who were scattered half-way around the world. Once all 48 properties were acquired, the city and county would officially vacate the streets that separated the blocks and combine all of the pieces into one large 14-acre tract and the rezoning would permit the property to be used to build a future church campus. But buying all of the properties was the key. It did happen. It took ten years and about 60 closings—with all the various trades and transactions. But, it did happen.
But back to the comment that made me angry because I felt misunderstood. I was just practicing something that I heard Bruce Van Horn say decades later: “You know those ideas you have that are so big you’re embarrassed to talk about them? You should act on them!” God had given a vision to start a church that would reach thousands of unchurched families. I was acting on a vision. While a minimum of three acres was required in our city to build a church and the largest property that was owned by any other church at that time was seven acres, I felt we needed to be prepared to carry out the calling we had been given. So it stung a little (honestly, a lot) when an older much-more experienced colleague said to me in front of a group of other pastors, “What in the world are you going to do with all that land, build a university?” Given the tone of voice by which it was said, my interpretation at the time was: “Are you a young stupid kid or are you just arrogant? Who do you think you are? Do you think you can come to this city and start and build a larger church than all of the rest of us?” Innovation and vision was misunderstood.
David Brinkley of TV-News fame good-humoredly said, “A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him.” Now as a 60-something well-seasoned leader, I’m grateful that as a 30-something leader back then, I was able to use that brick thrown by another leader who was then about the age I am now. I look around each weekend and see nearly three thousand people gathering on our brick-paver covered campus for worship and watch the five-acre park being used by hundreds of families every day. And, I’m grateful. I’m so very blessed. Being misunderstood is a small price to pay.
Just two weeks ago, I sat and listened to an audacious church-planting vision from another 30-something leader. He recounted how some have told him his ideas are too grandiose, unreasonable and ambitious. I remembered how I felt when others threw bricks at me. It felt good to simply encourage his extraordinary vision, pray for him and to commit to give start-up financial support for the next three years.
QUESTIONS: What great vision have you been given for 2018 that you might need to start sharing? When have you been misunderstood because you were innovative? I would love to hear more of your story in the comment section below.