What are we to do when the church we love and serve seems to have lost its way? When the path ahead seems clouded and obscure? When people want to retreat into the past? These are challenging times for the church. Competing voices and conflicting directives can create a sense of fear and frustration in us. Can we make it through this? What’s on the other side of the fog for us? Is it all worth the effort?
Before you take another step forward it’s important to stop, assess where you are right now and then work intentionally to gain clarity on who you are, whose you are and where your being called by God to go next.
In our work with congregations moving through the fog of difficult change, Kim and I have walked beside them, listened intently, and helped them through the process of gaining clarity with three very important questions.
The first question is one that invites us to step back from the fray, take deep breaths, and reground ourselves in God’s presence so that we can hear again what God intends for us. It’s a question of vision. When Jesus called us to follow him he made the promise that he would never leave us or forsake us, especially when everything seems to be cloudy and scary because he knew God’s vision extends far beyond the stuff that clouds our sight today. God’s gaze extends well beyond ours and we are reminded to trust God for the very next step in the journey.
Reminding ourselves, and our congregations, that God still has a plan for us and God is not going to stop guiding us just because we’re in a mess right now, is perhaps the most important work we can be doing in a time of change.
Two scripture passages that might help with group reflection on this first question are Ephesians 4 and Matthew 22:37-40. Spend some time reading through these scriptures slowly and prayerfully and then lead a discussion with others around these questions: According to these scriptures, Why do we exist as a church? Does what we are currently doing as a congregation jive with these teachings?Finally, what evidence is there that we are currently living into “why” we exist?Make a quick list of these responses.
The second question reminds us that how we behave, especially when times are hard, determines whether we make it through the storm. How we behave is always important because our behavior reveals our values. It’s easy to see what we value. We only need to look at where we spend our time, energy, and resources. What captures our imagination and gives us energy? Think about someone you know (preferably in your church) whose behavior exemplifies what you believe a follower of Jesus should be like. Make a list of these behaviors and talk about them with others. How we behave reveals what we truly value.
Churches in messy and foggy times would do well to have honest conversations about their values, what matters most and what behaviors will be consistent with those values. Spend some time reflecting and discuss ways to hold one another accountable to these values and behaviors.
Scriptures that may be helpful here include Galatians 5:22-25 and Colossians 3:12-17. Questions that might be helpful: What do we currently value as a community of faith? What values does God intend for us? Which of our current corporate behaviors line up with these values? Which ones do not?
Finally, it all comes down to us individually. How I behave, in any given situation, as a follower of Christ and member of his church. This is where the rubber truly meets the road. Spending time reflecting on my own personal values is very important. We have invited hundreds of Christians over the years to join in this prayer, “God, what do you want to do through me to fulfil your will for your church?”“What do YOU want to do THROUGH me?” As I discern how God wants to work through me, I need look at my values and ask if they are in line with God’s.
I was asked to speak at a conference about how churches can become more vital. I had an hour’s worth of well-crafted script supported by dozens of beautiful Power Point slides. After a lengthy introduction I stood to speak and the Holy Spirit interrupted my sage advice with a single thought which I shared with the group, “Your church will only be as vital as YOU are!” If you want to have a vital church BE a vital follower of Christ. Look at the list of desirable behaviors you made for someone who lives as a follower of Jesus. How many of these show up in how you are living your life?
A Scripture that may be helpful for reflection here is Matthew 25:14-44. Questions that might be helpful to guide your conversation include: How do my personal values and behaviors line up with Christ’s expectations of me? Who are the people I struggle most to relate to? Am I open to God speaking to me through them? How should I treat those who are very different from me?
There is no easy fix to the complex and painful experiences your church may be experiencing in the fog but there is something you can be doing together to move through it. FOCUS. Gain and keep your sense of identity as a people of God. This is a time to get clear again on who you are, whose you are and how you are to live as followers of Jesus.
If you’d like a consultation with someone to help you navigate through this time of transition please let us know. We are all in this together.
“In tight circumstances, I cried out to the Lord. The Lord answered me with wide-open spaces. The Lord is for me—I won’t be afraid.” (PS 118:5-6 CEB)