Over these past months we’ve been travelling through strange landscapes with little time to stop to see where we were. What pundits predicted six, or even three months ago now seems hopelessly naive. We’re tired. Too often we feel confused around how to lead institutions that once worked but now seem unable to adapt to very different times. We need different ways of responding. Trying to manage our way back to some previous normal is wearing us out. As we look ahead, it would be unusual if we weren’t wondering how to lead our people forward. This is where we feel disoriented – what does it mean to lead our people forward?
None of us want to respond to this moment out of fear, scarcity or with quick fixes. We want to bring a hope that will give our people the energy to imagine a future shaped by God’s life amongst us rather than the exhausting process of adopting one more technique or program. Such hope comes from partnering with what God is doing right where we live. Leading in this moment is about discerning what God is doing among our people.
This is a pivotal moment for congregations. But it will be squandered if we focus our energies only on managing questions of returning to in-person worship (or not), restarting programs or determining what kind of “hybrid” church we’ll be. To address this moment with hope we must also give attention to different questions such as:
- Action Questions: How do we faithfully join the Spirit’s working out THIS story where we live?
- Identity Questions: How do we help our people rediscover hope in the one true story of God at work making all things new right in the places where we live?
These questions can redirect our energies. They can invite our people to embrace a hope beyond institutional reorganization, survival or the management of growth. It is these questions that will address the tiredness and discouragement that is becoming endemic among leaders and congregations. We are too caught in a story of institutional survival, of managing the systems we’ve inherited, and being caught up in narratives of our own failings that we’ve lost touch with something dynamic and transformational going on right in the places where we live. God in Christ is acting ahead of us, engaging the brokenness, confusion and malaise that has settled into our common lives. The leaders we need are those able to cultivate a people who embrace this story and join with what God is doing in our communities. Here is where we will find hope.