Thank you to all those who wrote to voice their appreciation for the previous article on this topic, but thankyou most of all to Terry Mengle of Kent, Washington in the USA whose transparent and heartfelt e-mail stirred me deeply and led me on a further quest for language to describe how to make the shift from having a focus on making an impact to achieving genuine penetration in peoples’ lives. Terry wrote:
“I enjoyed your article and sent it out to several friends. It caused quite a stir, but some of us were wondering if you would elaborate about the difference between impact and penetration. Many of my friends hope you will say more about this topic and what you feel the Lord is saying about this. How do you aim for penetration?- without impact? What makes for effective penetration? As a pastor for 30 some years I recognize now that I often went for impact with little lasting fruit. In fact, after serious consideration I feel I gained little of lasting value for all the effort. We must not let the younger generation make the same mistake. How can we help them avoid this costly error?”
There is much I could say in response to Terry’s e-mail, but allow me to simply tell you a story and then make a few basic observations.
About six years ago I was asked by a friend to come over to his church in Hermanus, South Africa to dedicate their new facility because I had been prophetically involved with catalysing its construction. As you can imagine, it was an incredibly busy time for my friend Mario Marchio. As the church’s founder, he was overseeing the completion of a building that was not only intended for use by his church and their attached Christian school, but he was about to announce to every church in their town of about 30,000 that this new 850 seat auditorium was available to every church, free of charge, whenever they needed it because, while it might have been built by Bosko Ministries, it belonged to the Kingdom.
A day or so after the packed dedication service, Mario took me for a drive to Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of the African continent. It’s a windswept part of the world with nothing much to see except to be able to say you’ve been there and that you’ve seen the place where two oceans geographically meet. Big deal, eh? Well, it will always be a big deal for me, because it was on the drive home that Mario penetrated my heart and changed me forever.
As we were driving home that afternoon, I thanked Mario for taking so much time out of an otherwise very busy schedule for me while I was in town. While he was driving the car, I remember him looking across at me in the passenger seat with tears in his eyes. He said, “Buddy, I love you. And if I love you I’m going to give you my life.” He went on to say, “Kerry, I’ve only been given one thing in life and that’s ‘time’, so if I really love you, I’m going to give you my life, but the only way I can do that is to give you my time.”
As you can imagine, I came apart. We cried together as we drove .. and I discovered something of the nature of God’s heart that has hounded me ever since. Real penetration only ever takes place over time.
By way of example, Robert Holmes and I love to spend time with each other as often as we’re able but there’s something more at work when we connect. There’s a strong belief in each others’ potential that makes us very intentional about the ongoing development of our friendship. What I’m talking about is not just hanging out. This is intentional life investment.
Likewise, I am the ‘white sheep’ of my family; I’m the only practising Christian out of my parents and my four brothers; but more and more I am discovering that my family are opening up to and embracing the things of God the more I show them that they as people are important to me. I’m doing all I can to be with them at times that matter and even at times that don’t. It’s taken almost 30 years of me making mistakes to learn that all they want is to see me LIVE the reality of what I believe. As they see it, they’re becoming more open to being penetrated by it. They don’t need Word of Faith hyper-positive mumbo-jumbo. They don’t need me to yield to the lie that it’s more important for me to be at yet another church service than to be with them. They certainly don’t need me preaching at them or Bible-bashing. What they need is to see the reality of an ordinary man learning how to serve an extraordinary God in the most challenging time in human history. As a result, my life is starting to penetrate them more and more because I’m intentionally spending time with them.
Because of nearly 25 years in broadcasting, many see me as an extrovert. The reality is, I am an introvert, and I find reaching out to people and spending time investing myself into them to be really hard work. But there’s no escaping it. I have discovered that the ONLY way to penetrate a person’s heart is to intentionally spend time with them, investing myself into them while remaining open to my being penetrated by their life in turn. This means I have to go beyond myself and live according to my convictions rather than my preferences, because communicating .. really communicating .. involves genuinely engaging people for extended periods of time. It involves a two way interaction that requires me to open up my life and heart .. and that’s just not comfortable nor safe .. nor does it fit well in our current institutional church models.
Did Jesus impact or penetrate? Interestingly, He did both.
Cast your memory over the gospels. There were countless instances where Jesus entered a town and healed many but we hear nothing more from them. The story of the Ten Lepers is one such instance. Did He make an impact? You bet He did! The same could be said in the temple courts at the time He overturned the money-changers tables. Impact? Certainly. Penetration? None.
But now think about Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well in John chapter 4. They spent an extended period of time together one-on-one. He engaged her. He ‘opened’ His life up to her and she to Him. The result was that she returned to her town and told everyone there all about this encounter. This in turn saw every person in the town become Jesus’ disciples. Now THAT’S penetration! And it all came about because Jesus invested real time and real life into this supposedly worthless woman.
Think about the twelve disciples who eventually became ’sent ones’. The penetration of these mens’ hearts was so deep and so broad that we are still living in its wake over two thousand years later with all but one changed forever by a man named Jesus who was willing to invest three or more years of His life and time into each of them!
Why would you ever again be satisfied with just making an impact when penetration produces such lasting benefits?
Recently Rob Holmes and I spoke on the phone while he was away working with Brian Medway on a series of “cluster meetings” for the Crosslink Christian Network. These meetings were designed to have only about ten or twenty leaders in attendance over two days. These guys and girls only needed to get to a location near where they live and minister, because the leaders of the network valued them enough to go to them to spend time with them. When I asked Rob how the meetings were going, he said, “Oh mate, you can’t produce fruit like this any other way”. His language betrayed him! He literally meant that the only way to make the kind of lasting penetration they were seeing was to spend intentional, quantity time with people right where they are.
I remember attending a denominational conference about ten years ago during which there was a split session .. the men in one building and the women in another .. for the purpose of getting down to some straight talk about some issues relating to each group. During that session, one thing was said that penetrated my heart and has stuck with me all these years. The speaker said that the concept of scheduling “quality time” was a lie. He said, “Quality time only ever comes out of quantity time, because you can’t schedule ‘Kodak moments’. You just have to make sure you’re around for when they happen.” The same is true when looking at impact v’s penetration.
I can schedule a corporate meeting in the hope that what I have to say will hit its mark at the time I’ve designated it to. The reality is, the most lasting change only ever seems to come during those “uh-huh” moments when two or more people are mutually sharing and blending the issues of life, faith and friendship together. Remember, Jesus didn’t come to bring us “meetings and meetings more abundantly”. He came to bring us life! That’s what we’re meant to bring to each other, but that can only happen if we’re willing to invest ourselves into each other and stop hiding behind the busyness of our programs.
In short, do the sums and make a choice …
event-focussed + “quality time” + “manageable excellence” = IMPACT
relationship-focussed + “quantity time” + the untidiness of life = PENETRATION
Remember the essence of my friend Mario’s words when he said “Buddy, I love you. And if I love you I’m going to give you my life.” What he was really saying was “greater love has no man than this, that he lays down his life for his friends.” I want my life in God to penetrate that of others and that really only happens when we’re willing to push the pause button on our busy schedules and give each other time.