Consistency is key. Consistency is king. Consistency is, well, necessary but also a liability.
I spend a lot of time communicating that consistency is one, if not, the most important asset in being an urban missionary. I have developed cute phrases that help people grasp the concept of showing up for the sake of showing up even when you don't feel like showing up, i.e. habitual presence, intentional investment, community commitment, etc. Why? Because very early on in the journey of Bridge City Community I had to make choices regarding consistency. Here's a couple stories:
- The first time I visited our partner elementary school I was cautiously escorted back to a 5th grade classroom where I would be interrogated on my intentions, purpose, and goals for mentoring students and volunteering in the classroom. We laugh about it now, but the final statement Mrs. Graves made was, "Don't come back next week unless you commit to showing up every week for the entire school year." Yikes. Could I (would I) commit to a consistent routine of weekly visits to Calvin Donaldson for an entire year?
- I remember many conversations with veterans of the southside that included not so subtle implications that if I survived more than a year they would be surprised. Looking back I realize now that these comments weren't intended to intimidate or discourage but to highlight the challenge of commitment and consistency in an intimidating and oft discouraging context. We laugh about it now (laughter hides a multitude of insecurity after all) because each of those influential and experienced individuals have since admitted they encouraged me to pursue an urban mission while hiding heavy doubt and skepticism in their hearts.
Consistency is necessary. There have been more days than I can count where I have wanted to give up - where I have heard the siren song of futility - where I have questioned the purpose of my continued presence - where I have been tempted to admit failure - where I have doubted that consistency is key, or that it even achieves results at all. For all of those days, however, there are more situations in which I see that from the planted seeds of consistency come sprawling roots of relationships and sprouting of change. I see it in the growth of teenagers who were once rooted in fighting and are now developing into leaders. I see it in the depth of partnership with a once cautious elementary school now co-pilot for communtiy service programming. I see it in the Lost Sheep who are hearing the soothing voice of the Good Shepherd and now grazing on the clover of consistency - the habitual presence of Bridge City Community and our commitment to sticking it out.
Cool. Light up the fireworks and get someone to play a tuba or something...
I know this sounds counterintuitive and opposite of everything I shared above, but after coming home from worship disheartened wondering where everyone was I realized something... consistency is a liability. It's easy to be discouraged when regulars aren't so regular anymore and when penned sheep are wandering again. It's tempting to succumb to the alluring lullaby of failure in a religious culture where multiplication is idolized and in a community where anticipated, unexcused-absences have been systemically normalized. People expect me to be consistent. People want me to be consistent. If I'm not then trust quickly dissipates. In return, I expect people to be consistent too. I want them to consistently attend worship on Sunday, volunteer at serve+share on Tuesdays, pull out their wallets and support our sustainability efforts.
But they don't - at least not all of the time. For many inconsistency is key. Inconsistency is king. Inconsistency is anything else you want it to be. I'm not being cynical, just honest. Consistency is the key to the sustainability and success of Bridge City Community as an urban mission. I've tasted it already and seen the fruits of our labor. Consistency is also our greatest liability. It tastes bitter and the burgeoning growth appears atrophied.
Consistency is double-edged - it is necessary but also a liability. To succeed, we must endure the sharp edge of inconsistency while utilizing the other edge to sharply remove any weeds that threaten to choke the roots that are deepening and the plants that are sprouting.