Urgency and Opportunity

“There are two questions that we have to ask ourselves.  The first is ‘Where am I going?’ and the second is “Who will go with me?’”

– Howard Thurman


“You have to pick the places you don’t walk away from.”

– Joan Didion


“If you’re not drowning, you’re a lifeguard.”

– Seth Godin


“Do not conform to the pattern of this world,

but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

– Romans 12:2


I often get asked a version of the question:  What faith communities are thriving right now and how are they doing it?

I empathize with the question.   There is hope for a model, a plan, a formula, a system, a guiding insight, a strategic initiative that will lead to thriving and flourishing and all good things for congregations.  If there is such a thing, I’ve never seen it.

What I observe, across our diverse network, is that size of congregation does not correlate to thriving.  Nor does location, or theological orientation (as if that is ever uniform for most faith communities).  Certainly, it does not correlate with denominational affiliation.

Leadership matters.  A lot.  And not just pastoral leadership, but board leadership and the capacity of the whole congregation to together create a learning culture.  Avoiding infatuation with “shiny things” and clever ideas is a plus.  Moving away from “all things for all people” is helpful, if it is in service of going deeper with our faith.  That going deeper with our faith is the heart and soul of Paul’s exhortation in Romans to not be conformed to this world (and oh, the conformity possibilities these days are endless!) and instead be transformed by God who renews all things, including us and our congregations.  Feeling the freedom and joy that comes from following Jesus daily is a gift.


Where are you going as a congregation?  Howard Thurman’s questions are a necessary pairing.  Not only where are you going – but who are you going with?  Are we all willing to pay the price of being in true community?  And community not just for community’s sake, but to go somewhere, do something in the way of Jesus:  healing, accompanying, proclaiming, praying.  Churches that are trying to do this are thriving.

Along with picking the places we are going, and those we are going with, churches also need to pick the places we will go and stay and never walk away from, just as God will never forsake us.  The world is, in large measure, experiencing despair, hopelessness, and anger.  Can the church go there and stay there – forsaking all small plans and easy answers in ministry – and speak there, in the largest, boldest way possible, speak love and hope, love and hope, love and hope, love and hope?

This is an urgent time.  And it is issuing an urgent call to every church.  Godin puts it well:  we are either drowning or we are a lifeguard.  For churches, it is time to take seriously the opportunity to be lifeguards for a drowning world.  It is astonishing what is possible with the Holy Spirit of God guiding us.  Thriving awaits all our faith communities that understand this calling.

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