The Struggles You Choose

Digging a Deeper Well

In the days after the deaths of C.T. Vivian and John Lewis, which happened on the same weekend in July, the digital displays outside Lincoln Center in New York City – usually pre-occupied with upcoming performances but mostly blank amid the pandemic –  displayed alternating quotes from these two great leaders:  “Get in good trouble,” from John Lewis, and “You are made by the struggles you choose,” from C.T. Vivian.

For many, Lewis’ words are probably more familiar.  But in this season of the church, let’s not overlook Vivian’s wisdom as well: “You are made by the struggles you choose.”

As we live into more ‘pandemic time’ than many of us could have imagined six months ago, church boards need to focus on choosing, not just coping.

The scope of the struggles your church board chooses to engage will vary by any number of factors that you know best. But the act of choosing them is essential. And the church is not alone in needing to choose. If you look around at other sectors and leaders, you will see them choosing their struggles as well.

The hospitality industry (restaurants and hotels) has been devastated over the last six months.  In response, as a recent New York Times article noted:

Hotels are . . . rethinking what guests value most. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reimagine every single amenity, and everything is up for grabs,” Professor Dev said. ‘The hospitality business has to be taken apart like a puzzle and put together in a new way.”

With so many pastors and boards feeling exhausted right now at the increased responsibilities of navigating the pandemic, taking apart the church “like a puzzle and putting it together in a new way” may be the last thing you want to do.  But it is the opportunity of this moment.  It is a struggle we may be fortunate enough to choose.

In Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well in John’s Gospel, we read:

Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”  They left the city and were on their way to him. (John 4:28-30)

The time is ripe to help God in God’s intention to take the church apart and let us see anew the needs of this world for care, community, connection, depth, justice, equity, hope, love, gentleness, kindness, courage.

One way to begin: start your next church council meeting with a time of reflection on Vivian’s simple statement, “You are made by the struggles you choose.”

What struggles has your board actively chosen in years past? How did these struggles ‘make’ the church what it is, for better or worse?

What struggles has the church actively chosen, since the pandemic began?

What struggles are you now encountering, as a board and as a congregation?

How will you choose?

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