Few of us are ready for a death—whether it’s our own, someone’s we love, or the death of an institution like our church. When we see death on the horizon, we tend to clutch at whatever we can, blaming others for our loss and strategizing about how to postpone or prevent the end. But in our effort to avoid suffering, we may be disregarding some deep truths of our faith—that nothing created lasts forever, that fear and worry may be natural but are not necessary, and that letting go is possible.
Talking with another clergyperson recently, we bemoaned the current spike in COVID-19 infections and the Delta variant. Congregations were moving in the direction of “opening up” again for indoor worship and activities. All systems were go, it seemed.
But then many congregations, in an abrupt retreat, slowed down or modified reopening plans. The ink on books about the “post-pandemic church” was hardly dry as we found ourselves thinking about a possible longer arc of this health crisis.
Suddenly my colleague blurted out, “Maybe I don’t want to do this hard thing.”
I used to run laps—now I am more apt to walk. Either way, I find that if I can muster the will power to begin, I can almost always finish the first lap. But if the loop is too short for a full run, I’m faced with a decision: should I quit or start my second lap? Lap number two is where adrenaline leaves off and perseverance gets its test. As we move out of 2020 into 2021, clergy and lay leaders face the challenge of rekindling energy for a year of new and different challenges.
In the wake of the 2019 United Methodist General Conference, I want to share some common patterns and feelings that you may recognize in yourself or others, as well as some suggestions for healthy ways to channel energy.
I needed something like Will Strunk’s Elements of Style for spirituality—pithy rules like “use the active voice” or “omit needless words,” to reorient my life the way Strunk’s book has sharpened up my writing. Here’s what I came up with.
The end of summer vacation can be the beginning of a downward spiral, or it can be an opportunity to begin to lead from a new, more health-giving place.
High-intensity congregational conflict is brutal on congregational leaders. Even though conflict generally emerges from deeper congregational and societal dynamics, members are likely to assume that leaders’ incompetence must be at least partly responsible.