the burnt toast syndrome

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Is it just me or are all toasters pretty much designed to either undercook your toast first time down — and then overcook it the second time around?

We just replaced our toaster. Our old one did it. And our new one does it too.

Unless you hover attentively throughout the second cooking cycle, it inevitably emerges as burnt toast.

As the smoke rose from the charred wreckage the other morning, I had this thought:

The ‘burnt toast syndrome’ more or less accurately describes how things seem to go with me in life and ministry.

Hmmmm… What do I mean by this?

Well, things never seem to go that well the first time I do something new — or that I implement a new ministry initiative.

I may be convinced that it’s right or addresses weakness in how things currently stand or whatever. But that doesn’t guarantee that it’ll work well straight away. There’s often a lag as I learn the ins and outs of the new thing — and sometimes discover unanticipated downsides that need to be mitigated against.

But, assuming I don’t want to make do with the equivalent of a piece of underdone toast, I’ll usually have another go a it — better armed this time with a sense of the probable outcome and the challenges along the way.

However, my tendency (as it is with the toaster) is to be less attentive the second time around. I get too confident and start trying to multitask with a bunch of other things. And, well … once again I’m contending with charred wreckage.

Let me give you an example of this from the campus ministry I’m part of.

Last year we made a pretty major structural change in our campus ministry — we moved from an ‘in house’ training meeting (with dinner) + ‘front door’ lunchtime public meeting + decentralised small group structure to a single public meeting with dinner and small groups + an ‘in house’ lunchtime training meeting.

There were some good reasons to make this move. We’d hoped to capitalise on the way the evening training meeting with dinner included had begun to function as our main community hub — and even the ‘front door’ for many people getting connected to our group and exploring Christianity. It was also supposed to help us address some pathologies that had developed in the way we were doing things.

But it didn’t go as well as we’d hoped. As well as requiring us to get the hang of a new way of doing things, there were some unanticipated drawbacks to the way we structured the ministry (alongside some pretty major gains, it must be said!).

So, with a slight twist of the dial here and a more major correction there (we’re bringing back mid-week, decentralised small groups — rebaptised as missional disciple-making teams), we’re ready to pop it down for a second cycle.

The only problem is, we risk inattentiveness at this point. And we really can’t afford to fall victim to the burnt toast syndrome!

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