Taking the Long Road in a “One and Done” World

I’ve had recent conversations with several dozen pastors serving congregations in diverse settings.  Their descriptions of their ministry challenges were what most of us could expect these days.  One by one, they all raised the same daunting concern:  broken connections.  Broken connections within the congregation after months of remote gathering.  Broken connections between pastor and congregation who have had significantly different experiences of the crisis we’ve been living through.  Broken connections with their neighborhood.  Broken connections with institutions, including their own denominations and theological schools.  Among these, the broken connections within congregational care seemed to be most pressing.  Incredibly gifted and diligent pastors found themselves lamenting: “Try as I do, the pandemic has left me having to guess who our congregation really is at this point and what they most need.”

Matching this concern over broken connections is a yearning or a wish for some “golden plan” or “magic key” that will provide a wonderful way forward for their congregation.  One pastor was understandably blunt: “I need a big play to get things back on track.”  But then she added, “I suspect there is no such thing.”

She is right.  There is no such thing as “one and done.”

It is notable that the Beatitudes don’t carry “one and done” offers.  As in:

Blessed are you who can be merciful today.  That checks the box, you’re good.

Or, try to plan a big “hunger and thirst for righteousness event” and then you can move on to the rest of the Beatitudes.

Or, if you can mourn some this morning, the blessing will last all day.

 Of course not.

Faith is a day-to-day discipline.  So is pastoral care.  So is strategic thinking and discernment.  So is leading a church.

Seth Godin wrote last week on his blog:

We are primed to pay attention to things that happen in a thunderclap. 

But the events that change our culture often happen over time, distributed across parts of the population too small to notice.

The Grateful Dead were the #1 live touring band more years than any other… and yet they only had one top 40 hit. Connection was worth more than wide and shallow sync.

The first challenge is finding the focus and patience to work on the asynchronized adoption of important ideas. And the second is to not sacrifice the larger goal in a frenzied hustle for the big break.

Drip by drip makes a wave.

It’s been a long road to reach the point of so many broken connections in our culture and church.  It will be a long road to repair those connections and heal the torn social fabric.  But God – in God’s persistent, nurturing, enlivening presence – is especially present on long roads.  The big play, the magic key has about as much power to help us as the Golden Calf.  For many of us, the work of addressing broken connections will last as long as the rest of our ministry and rest of our lives.  With God’s help and God’s sure guidance, it’s time to begin.

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