The most lasting legacy of the Covid epidemic may not be the new ways people can show up, important as those are. The most lasting legacy may be new ways of thinking about when and whether to show up. For congregations, the era of attracting people by low expectations may have come to a belated end.
Who Are We and Why Are We Here?
When he was running as a third-party vice presidential candidate in 1992, Admiral James Stockdale was widely mocked for asking at the beginning of the VP debate, “Who am I? Why am I here?” The timing of the question was admittedly odd, but the question itself is spot on. Every individual, and every congregation, needs to ask itself such questions periodically. The questions of identity and purpose are essential to effective congregational life.
Innovation: Living into Your Next Potential
“We need to innovate” may be one of the most overused phrases addressing the future of the Church. We like to dream big dreams, but realistically, what can we accomplish with our limited resources and our members who dislike change? Which innovation efforts will help create and sustain a hope-filled future—and which will prove to be a poor investment of our time and resources?
The future of any congregation is neither completely open nor completely pre-determined. Instead, we face a corridor of potential, constrained by boundaries. A future not yet known but brimming with possibilities is bounded by limitations of the past and present. We only have so many resources and opportunities. It is false to think that nothing new is possible. It is just as false to pretend that everything is possible.
Craft and Creativity in Ministry
The world has changed—perhaps you’ve heard!—and congregations must adapt in order to thrive in the future. I agree, but want to add that adaptation requires creativity, and the seedbed of creativity is craft—attention to the basics handed down to us through time.
Preaching, teaching, pastoral care, administration—the craft of parish ministry covers a wide gamut. Few of us excel across the board; all of us depend on others to supply what we cannot. The craft of ministry is ancient, though the specifics vary across time, geography, and faith traditions. Craft is a way of doing things rooted in the past—but without craft, how can we tackle future opportunities? To flourish long-term, leaders need to walk the paradox of craft and creativity.
Challenging Outdated Assumptions
In an era when innovation and adaptation are needed, many struggle to break free of old thinking patterns. No matter what we do, our congregations drift back to familiar, settled ways of doing things. It’s time to drop beneath the surface of our actions and challenge outdated assumptions that sustain the status quo.
Is Your Congregation Making an Impact?
This fall many congregations are trying to assess their level of health and vitality. Leaders wonder why some people have returned and re-engaged, and others have not. Some congregations did well in the pandemic, while others seemed to lose all of the air out of their balloons. One large-church pastor said, “I feel like I am leading a very different congregation than the one I was serving back in 2019.” While Covid still spreads, folks have moved on with their lives. Church is back in business, but it is still a perplexing time.
A Season of Letting Go
In several parts of my life, I feel a sense of letting go—as I transition into a new professional role, let go of some things in my personal life and identity, and shake off this reluctant Minnesota winter that won’t quite let me go. As a clergyperson in the United Methodist Church, I sense that we have now entered a season of letting go, as our time of denominational separation has arrived.