I am most fortunate in the ministry in which I find myself. A significant portion of my role falls under the umbrella of leadership. Though that may seem like a broad-stroke, maybe even ambiguous, description, what it means to me is that I get to think about, reflect upon, engage in wonderful conversations and imagine practical ways to nurture great leadership in the church!
Connected – and just as importantly – I play with tangible ways that leadership links the church to the future. What, therefore, may we need to consider as the church imagines its place in society 10, 20 years from now and beyond? Just as fortunately, I recently had one of those great conversations … which of course got me to musing … Thus, the next few blogs about leadership & the church will explore the following:
It’s not unusual, as I have the gift to walk with congregations in various stages of self-reflection, for me to hear lament about feeling ill-prepared to engage in the Inside and Outside reality that confronts faith communities in these changing times. This concern, that ranges from apathy to frustration, is not limited to any particular community within the church. Whether that is lay or ministry personnel, the lament is very real and – often – paralysing. It is certainly a heavy place and one which is very raw and cannot be dismissed. No platitude, no programme or curriculum is going to force people to ‘jolly up.’ Until church and faith communities are ready and choose to start to dig deeply to discover a future beckoning, walking with care and compassion is a helpful – and sometimes the only – way to witness and be present.
The Psalms model that Lament is not a static or passive act. Its very uttering is not about staying stuck, but about communing with the Holy. In that conversation, there can certainly be gnashing of teeth and railing in frustration. This rich tradition invites communities of faith to explore hurts; to witness past mistakes ;and, perhaps,put wrongs to right. Central to the tradition is the overriding and consistent narrative of blessing and abundance. An abundance that beckons Christian communities to awaken to the ever-present promise of hope. There is a reason Christians are often referred to as an ‘Easter people.’ Central to our self-understanding is that potential and possibility is not only present, but that it arises and blooms even in the midst of change and death.
As a faith community begins to ask future-orientated questions, it has become clear to me that how we ask those questions is intimately and explicitly connected to how well they are navigated. Furthermore, the intention, or our mindset if you will, that informs our questions is as important to understand as the words we use to craft our inquiry. This is not only appropriate, but must be demanded of ourselves. Self-reflection, in these changing times, reminds us of the need to be able to clearly and succinctly understand who we are, so as to more fully share that with those Outside. A clarity of purpose and identity is more important than ever, because (as we have discussed) the Inside and the Outside are no longer the same.
Future-forming exercises – the technical secular phrase is organisational change and management – has been something that Christian communities have always done. I suggest, however, that Christians who live in Western contexts, which some have called post-Christian, have sometimes forgotten how to do this not only well, but as a way to thrive and innovate. This changing context is filled with possibility, we just have to remember how to dream.
- Dreaming is an act of creativity.
- Dreaming is an act of solidarity,
- Dreaming is an act of resistance.
- Dreaming is an act of collective future-making. When done well, when embraced with the promise of abundance as a lens, the only limitation is the playful possibility of imagination.
One of the most effective philosophical ways I have found to help Christian communities to dream appreciatively has been by using Appreciative Inquiry (AI). It has been my experience, which ranges from exploring social media as evangelism to the nitty-gritty details of process and governance structures – that AI allows a community the possibility to start a process that begins with Lament and Remembering and follows various opportunities that helps them shift from deficit and loss to abundance and possibility.
Central to the AI philosophy is that it is within the community itself that the wisdom to change lies. How that resilience and potential is recovered is dependent upon what we focus. In stories that highlight what has been great, not only can a community begin to recognise where God has been in their ministry, they begin an act that names how they might continue their discipleship as Jesus followers moving forward. By focusing on the best in the past, congregations begin to create new ways to bring what was into what will be …
Throughout this leadership series, it has not been my intention to imply that there is any one way forward, if you will. As the church wrestles and imagines what is next, whether as a congregation or as a larger collective we call The United Church of Canada, central to that is how we nurture leadership that is both nimble and flexible. Where once Inside and Outside were the same, it lent itself to a model of preparation and training that was structured, repeatable and predicable. With the Inside and Outside no longer the same, however, to maintain and continue preparing leadership for a time that no longer exists outside of church walls will only reinforce a sense of us and them. It will only entrench a sense of living in a land outside of time. Though there may be a certain romantic and nostalgic appeal for what was, I do not believe that is consistent with the Light we are called to share as an Easter People.
Whatever leadership formation will look like in the future, it must be able to honour who we have been, while also making space to engage with the Outside that helps to translate conversations in a way that is mutual and relational. Without being able to understand one another, no relationship can begin to bloom. Whatever those relationships might look like, when considered as a blessing and promise, they begin by telling stories and intentionally listening with authentic curiosity. When leadership allows us to meet the Other in a way that is intentionally wonder-filled, the possibilities are only limited by the imagination of those coming to know one another for the first time …