We invited several pastors to reflect on “road signs” they’re seeing in their ministry and here’s what they had to say:
The Stop Signs Always Comes
Reflection by: Amy Miracle
I confess that I get nervous every time I see a sign indicating that a roundabout is ahead. I don’t mind them if I know exactly where I am going. But if I don’t, I find them a little bit terrifying. Years ago, I was driving in Rome and came about a roundabout. I had no idea what direction I needed to go in. So I drove round and around until I figured it out. Frantically driving in a circle is no way to spend your vacation. And it’s no way to do ministry. But it happens sometime when a church faces a big hard decision and we don’t know the way forward.
At such times, I have learned to respect the stop sign. The tougher the decision, the more important it is to stop. I’ve always liked this quote from Viktor E. Frankl: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” I find that insight invaluable in my interpersonal relationships. And it is equally applicable to organizations such as the church. There are times when churches face a tough issue or confounding decision and the way forward is not clear. I’ve learned to encourage the church leadership to stop at such moments. To acknowledge that we don’t know the way forward. To breath deeply. That buys us time and space to look inside ourselves and outside ourselves for wisdom and resources. To seek God’s guidance. The stop sign invites us to wait for clarity. In my experience it always comes. It always comes.
Nothing Lasts Forever
Reflection by: Derek Starr Redwine
Why do we think anything lasts forever, especially in an institution centered around a leader whose life and ministry came to an abrupt end?
Everything ends. Every road, every ministry, every call, every small group, every beloved program, every institution, even the church you serve. All of it will end, and reaching the end is not always a sign of failure or poor leadership. Death is a part of life that opens up new possibilities, new pathways, and new expressions.
I am convinced one of the reasons the church is struggling to find its way in the 21st century is that we in the church are terrified to acknowledge that something we love about the church has reached its sell by date. Instead of naming what everyone knows to be true, we slow down and inch our way to the end of the road, extending the life of something that simply longs to die.
Whenever I talk to folks about starting a new church, I encourage them to include an expiration date into its charter, so from the very beginning everyone acknowledges that this particular incarnation of the church will one day cease to be relevant. Instead of fearing the end of the road, we need to embrace it, so we can see it as a sign of God’s eagerness to do something new in us and for us.
How would your ministry change if you acknowledged to yourself and to others that everything, even the things you love about church, will one day come to an end?
Stay in Your Lane
Reflection by: J.C. Austin
That expression has become something of a cliché in both the general culture and in organizational leadership, and it basically means you should stick to what you know and to the things for which you are responsible, and leave the rest to others to handle with their own knowledge and responsibility. And in certain contexts or for certain problems, that’s even good advice. But for traditionally-structured, historically white congregations and their pastors, it is a recipe for disaster, because the lanes they have traditionally occupied are ending. In fact, we have been passing the warning signs telling us this is going to happen for decades at this point.
But that’s not the part that interests me. To be honest, I’ve been bored with the conversation about how traditional North American churches are declining and dying for a long time. Because that’s only true if we insist that the only lane we can use is the one in which we’ve always driven. But the sign says, “lane ends; merge ahead.” The merge is what is exciting and promising for us. To me, the most interesting and hopeful conversations for the church right now are centered around what it would mean to merge with other lanes: the lanes of entrepreneurship, multimedia, community organizing, social justice activism, and the eternal highways of pilgrims who are looking for spiritual fulfillment and communal engagement, just to name a few. There’s a whole multi-lane superhighway for the church to utilize!
Note that “merge” doesn’t mean losing our particular journey or agency or purpose; it’s not a merge in a corporate sense, but a traffic one. We don’t abandon our car and disperse into other ones simply because the lane has merged! But merging in those lanes may help us see opportunities to fulfill our core mission as disciples of Jesus Christ differently.
I often say I think this moment is the most exciting and promising time to be in Christian ministry in North America in at least 125 years, if not more. The sign “lane ends; merge ahead” summarizes why. Perhaps the biggest responsibility and opportunity for pastors right now is to help people read and respond to both messages in that sign, both inside the church and beyond. The current lane is ending, so we cannot and must not “stay in our lane.” But we do have an extraordinary opportunity to merge with other lanes, to not simply keep going but to pursue our journey of discipleship more faithfully and effectively in the process, and welcome others who might otherwise never have joined us on the road.