Death and Resurrection
Dan Holloway, Pinnacle Associate
It is the season of Easter, a time of hope and promise for all those that live by the good news of resurrection. It is a time to give thanks for the transformation and change that are possible in our lives even when the future is unclear. Indeed, at the heart of the gospel message is this promise: “I am making all things new,” and I am persuaded that God is fulfilling this promise for all of us. We are a resurrection people, a people of good news.
Likewise, our hope for our communities of faith is that they too can spring forth with new life. We anticipate God’s transformative work for our congregations even as we do for our own lives. Yet it is worth remembering that sometimes something must die in our current congregational way of being the church for resurrection to be a possibility. We must let go of some of that which has been, in order to claim that which is yet to come. And in this season of life in the church, when old patterns of congregational life simply don’t work like they once did, it is worth thinking about some of the things that must die for God’s new works of transformation to grow and prosper. While there are undoubtedly a number of patterns that would be better off buried, there are four beliefs that seem especially important for 21st century disciples to eliminate.
(1) As church leaders, its our job to be the religious experts within the community
I recently arrived early for a congregational retreat where I was to provide leadership. The pastor met me at the door and said, tongue in cheek, “Thank goodness the expert is here.” I looked around, wondering who else had joined us! The truth, of course, is that we are all disciples in process of becoming what God would have us to be, which means we all have a lot to learn. Continual learning must the goal of any who seek to provide leadership in today’s emerging church.
This does not mean that we discount what we have learned in the course of our faith journeys or that we have nothing to share with others. Leaders still need to lead and to help their communities move forward in faith. But we do it as those who know they still have much to learn. Modesty is essential to good leadership.
(2) The belief that we can do this alone.
While church leaders play a crucial role in the life of their community of faith, they cannot do it alone. Tod Bolsinger says it this way in his book Canoeing the Mountains: “There is a noble but misguided belief that leadership requires broad shoulders and an ability to stand under pressures alone….sadly, this is far removed from the New Testament witness where, short of Jesus’ own work on the cross, virtually every other expression of the ministry of the Spirit was revealed to the world in pairs or trios (or more.) We should never forget that Jesus sent the seventy out two-by-two.” So, also, leadership at its best is always relational. It is focused on a community of people who exist to accomplish a shared mission and is best accomplished by people working side by side.
(3) The belief that the criticism of others means we have failed in our work
While it is true that we are called to work with others in joint ministry, it is also true that some within the church have different goals and objectives. These goals may include the maintenance of forms and structures that no longer serve the institution well and may in fact be causing it to become stagnant. In such a context, conflict may well emerge as change agents propose new ways of living into God’s call and mission. Indeed, some conflict is to be expected in most cases since change is hard for even the most faithful of us.
Yet such opposition should not necessarily be understood as a sign of failure. Resistance to change is inevitable, if for no other reason than we all grieve the loss of things that have been important to us. Yet it is the leader’s responsibility both to hold strong convictions and to lead in such a way as to withstand sabotage to necessary changes in the life of an institution.
(4) The belief that nothing can ever change around here.
Sometimes we get so focused on the obstacles to change that we lose sight of the things that are happening, even if they are happening more slowly than we would like. Sometimes we get so focused on the signs of death that we neglect the signs of life. If you want your church to find the health God intends, help it to focus on its own transformation rather than on signs of death. There is no doubt that faith communities face significant challenges these days, but those that thrive will focus not on what they cannot do but on what they can do, and will ask over and over again: “Where is God at work around us these days? And how can we join God in that work?” In those question are our future and our life.