In a recent Ministry Collaborative podcast we were talking with Tod Bolsinger, who teaches and directs leadership formation at Fuller Seminary and is also a member of our advisory board. Tod was asked what he learned after writing the widely read Canoeing the Mountains that led to his forthcoming book, Tempered Resilience. Among other things, Tod recalled talking with a pastor who confided, “I’m not worried that I can learn to lead change in my congregation. I wonder if I can survive it.” Often the stiffest resistance to change is not from the ‘principalities and powers’ but from leadership structures within our own congregations.
Over the past three weeks, intense internal conversations about if/when/how to re-open have been eclipsed by an expanding movement to boldly accelerate accountability and action about racial injustice in our society. For some congregations, this is a call to action received and responded to with joy and thanksgiving. In other congregations, especially predominantly white congregations, it raises questions about how to bring the church board—often containing many different perspectives and reactions—into a conversation which will move the congregation forward.
For these boards especially, here is another observation from Tod Bolsinger’s work: “listening is where change happens.” Among leaders, the more common mantra is that “we need to give everyone their say.” (A corollary to this is what one church elder, who was also the local school superintendent, once remarked when asked if his board was done with its discussion: “Everything has been said, but not everyone has said it yet.”)
In the spirit of ‘listening for change,’ how about beginning your next church board meeting with the question: How do you want this congregation to relate to the movement for racial justice in our city and nation?
This question both assumes some things and leaves space for some things. It assumes that every congregation has a relationship to what is going on (no congregation can “opt out”) and it also allows for initial feelings and insights to be shared. As one pastor said this week: “We need a way to ask all kinds of questions. It’s ok to ask the question, ‘Is our property protected?’ But that needs to exist right next to the question, ‘Why are people protesting and what do we need to learn?’”
Stepping into our rapidly changing context as learners with humility is a healthy approach in this season of ministry, and inviting your board members into conversation as co-learners with humility is essential. Perhaps then, as co-learners with humility, your board could spend some time together discussing and coming to a shared understanding about the following statement from the American author, professor, feminist, and social activist bell hooks:
“Love is profoundly political. Our deepest revolution will come when we understand this truth.”
- What is your conception of love in the context of Christian faith?
- What does it mean to call love political?
- Do you think Jesus’ love was political?
- What makes us want to resist this claim?
- What is the ‘deepest revolution’ you think is needed?
- What is your congregation’s relationship to that ‘deepest revolution’?