The world in front of you is nothing like the world behind you.
The paradox of the change process is that it is less about changing anyone else and more about being the leaven of transformation within the church.
Leadership is…Energizing a community of people toward their own transformation in order to accomplish a shared mission in the face of a changing world.
Canoeing the Mountains
Who knew that Lewis and Clark, early 19
th century explorers, could provide a lively metaphor for the current dilemma facing the church?! Tod Bolsinger, quoted above, uses the journey of Lewis and Clark as an extended metaphor for the church’s journey in the 21
st century. Lewis and Clark set out with canoes, assuming that waterways would carry them all the way to the Pacific. Then they got to the Rockies! Canoes, which had served them well while they were on water, were no longer what they needed to complete their westward journey of exploration; indeed, they became a burden. He applies this journey to the church: do we think that old tools and 20
th century assumptions will carry us forward on our journey of faithful exploration? What of our previous assumptions are now, actually, a burden? How do we provide leadership in this new time? The church is facing changes – it has always been thus. It seems, however, that the pace of those changes has increased and many of our parishes face the tipping point between sustainability and precipitous decline. And, because no one knows “what to do”, we circle the wagons in the belief that “if we can just hang on and keep the doors open” we will somehow get through this challenging time until things return to “normal” – full churches, full time clergy, full Sunday school classrooms. I doubt the old days are coming back! How, with the power of the spirit can we face the new normal? “The world in front of you,” writes Bolsinger, “Is nothing like the world behind you.”
What an opportunity to embrace! A whole new opportunity to listen to the presence of God to help us shape new ways to enliven and deepen our lives in faith, our lives as people made in the creative, redemptive and sustaining image of God! This is the fullness of God’s time to look honestly and deeply at the realities that face our churches, imagine what God might be calling us to know in our various contexts, and make intentional plans to address current circumstances and walk into the future with joy, leaving behind the canoes that weigh us down and embracing the new tools that the changing terrain requires.
A Baptist minister friend talks about taking his board of deacons out into a large empty parking lot, covering the windshield and asking them, one at a time, to drive forward using only the rearview mirror! Of course, they found it impossible to drive forward only looking backward! Yet, we do this all the time in the Church – longing for, and trying to recreate the “good old days,” assuming that’s the way church ought to be. We need to drive forward looking at the road ahead with glimpses behind us of the faith that sustains us…not the other way around!
This spring will bring an opportunity to shift your vision from the rearview mirror to the windshield. It is an opportunity to look at the changing landscape in your parish, and partner with other parishes in a small learning community. Together we will look unflinchingly at
what is now
, explore imaginatively
what could be
make a plan
to act on what God is calling you to walk into. There is more
, and I encourage you to give me a call for further conversation.
It is important to note that we are all walking into unknown territory – while there are best practices that we know can add to parish health, there is so much that is utterly dependent on our willingness to listen to God, to our context, and to each other. Conversation, imagination, openness to the Holy Spirit will be the hallmarks of our time, as we take change by the hand! Your presence, faithfulness and commitment will help us walk together on the journey of exploration. May we, in the words of Tod Bolsinger, with whom I began, be
the leaven of transformation within the church.
Endnote: As you may already know, I am facing a change which will no doubt come with grace and challenge! I am retiring from the position as Canon to the Ordinary as of March 1 and will be off for the month of March (except for the ZOOM information meeting indicated below). By God’s grace, I will return on April 1 (April Fools’ Day!!) to work very part time for Bishop Fisher. My primary job description will be working with the small church summits and subsequent learning communities. In addition, I will be available for coaching clergy and lay leaders. As I write this, I am trying to discern what tools will be needed for this next part of my journey. Let’s travel together into this new territory of God’s grace!