Rather than grand schemes (vision and mission statements) or attention to the usual objective indicators of success, we will need to become comfortable with living in a world were we don’t have answers but build communities of dialogue, both inside and outside the church, in which ordinary men and women discover that the imagination for thriving in this new space is among them in their everyday lives.
Alan K. Roxburgh in Missional Map Making: Skills For Leading in Times of Transition, pp. 31-32.
A few years ago my spiritual director suggested a different kind of fast. I came into the session ready to take on a spiritual discipline that would force me to pay attention to God’s doings in the world so fasting seemed like the perfect practice. I thought that if I skipped breakfast and lunch one day a week I could focus more on God’s doings. Little did I know that fasting was the prescription but not from food but from numbers.
Up to that point I was obsessed with numbers. The first thing I would think about when worship was over was the worship count, the second how much money was on the plate. I kept extremely particular records of those numbers, on complicated spreadsheets that would let me know yearly averages, two year averages, weekly attendance compared to average . . . you get my drift, I was obsessed.
When my spiritual direction suggested this kind of fasting my blood pressure rose. I shifted in my chair and my director sat quietly and pointed out to me how uncomfortable I looked. Was I going to take on this practice for a period of time?
I tell this story because it came to mind as I read the quote from Alan Roxburgh. I love that he calls for a new type of leadership. This kind of leadership is not centered on answer giving instead it is centered on community building. Unfortunately most of my training was focused on giving answers, being the resident expert, leading into the “objective indicators of success.”
What if we did take the time and develop these communities of dialogue? What if we encouraged these communities across our church so that together we could discern, imagine, God’s presence and work in the everyday of our communities, of our people?
In my denomination, The United Methodist Church, these communities of dialogue would include our bishops, district superintendents, pastors, and lay people. Together we would imagine a future of presence, a future of common work for God’s kingdom. It is interesting that in our tradition we have a precedent for these communities, we call them Christian conferencing.
Reclaiming Christian conferencing as a community of dialogue would require a culture shift in our local congregations, districts, and Annual Conferences. No longer focusing on so called “business” we could focus on listening, worship, and vision/mission. These kind of gatherings would revive the church by shining a light to God’s doings in our lives and in the life of the church.
Although uncomfortable at first, I did fast from numbers for a season. This “fasting” changed my life and ministry forever. I was able to be present in a very different way to those that came to worship. I no longer ran to the attendance pad after worship instead I took the time to talk, listen, care. I also became more present to those that I encountered in the community, for I no longer saw them as people to fill my church, grow my numbers, make me look good, instead they were people that God was sending my way.
Our world is changing . . . maybe its time to acknowledge that the old questions, and the old answers might no longer speak to the world today. Maybe God is calling us to slow down and listen to what the Spirit is saying to the church! Maybe the Spirit is calling us to a new kind of leadership . . .