Where to from here?
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens… a time to tear down and a time to build.” Ecclesiastes 3: 1, 3b
“The world in front of you is nothing like the world behind you… we are called to adapt to a changing world because we are called to reach that changing world” Tod Bolsinger
It was not really the pandemic and its massice collateral damage which posed the most profound challenge for the church, it was waking up afterwards and realizing the cataclysmic culture shift that had taken place over the past two years both inside and outside the church and wondering how to ever re-engage passionately in the mission fo making decisions.
No pastor or lay leader I’ve spoken to recently believes that the church will ever return to the way it used to be. The anxious rumbling is now similar to that of the Israelites after crossing the Red Sea: “Well, where to from here?” This sentiment is often laced with a mixture of uncertainty, fear, and doubt; doubt that there exists enough energy for yet another change in a long chain of transformations, evolutions and innovations. I empathize with these disquieting feelings, however a lack of clarity about the trajectory for the church’s mission is like setting sail from Vancouver to Hawaii without GPS, a sextant or a compass. An aimless, soul-depleting bobbing on the ‘waters’ is most certain. Consider the wise aphorism attributed to Benjamin Franklin, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
The church must face its fears and doubts with the conviction that God will build his church, empower people for mission and provide wisdom to overcome obstacles. Revisiting the church’s core convictions and vision is not only wise and healthy, it brings new insights and often reignites passion. It may be an arduous path, but the opportunity for breathing new life into the calling of God in invaluable. I resonate with the adage, “Difficult roads lead to beautiful destinations.”
In this post-pandemic season, I would counsel churches to genuinely engage with seven key questions. In preparation, the church must seek the counsel of the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures, both are the church’s counselors. Bathing the process in prayer; asking the Lord for receptive hearts and minds is vital. God may call the church to something very different from its existing expectations. These seven questions are primer queries, the open the door the other equally helpful and significant ones.
- Why do we exist?
- Who is with us and how healthy are we?
- What are we doing that is fruitful and what is not?
- What are our desired outcomes and how will we measure success?
- What kind of leadership do we need?
- How will we resource our efforts?
- What values do we want to possess?
Before a church engages with these questions, leadership could ask substantial process questions:
- Who are the stakeholders we want engaging with these questions?
- What form will engagement with stakeholders take?
- What will be our timeline?
- Who will lead the process?
- What will be that nature of our communication?
- How will we prepare stakeholders?
- What kind of third-party support do we need?
Trusted Spirit led voices within the church are consistently calling the church to be self-aware and willing to adapt to the challenges associated with fulfilling its redemptive mission. In perhaps the most prophetic book on the mission of the church in recent decades – The Present Future – Reggie McNeal penned:
“We are witnessing the emergence of a new world… The church needs a mission fix… The response to the emerging world is a rebooting of the mission, a radical obedience to an ancient command…”
Echoing McNeal’s work, Tod Bolsinger writes to church leadership in his impactful work, Canoeing The Mountains:
“…churches need to keep adventuring or they will die. We need to press on to the uncharted territory of making traditional churches missionary churches.
Most recently, Thom. S. Rainer in his book The Post Quarantine Church counsels the church:
“Get ready to begin the journey. From my perspective, the church is entering the most amazing and exciting days it has seen ins decades – maybe even in centuries. Though the path will not always be easy, we can expect future days of great opportunity.”
The church is to be about advancing the gospel, making disciples and living out thee Great Commandment. As we go from here (present) to there (future), be courageous, be bold, and be certain that God is faithful and will build his church for such a time as this.
Phil Gunther, Director of Ministry