After our time with Rick Ufford-Chase, Molly Dykstra texted me saying she’d like a chance to talk about what Rick said. Here is our conversation (although edited for ease of reading) – two colleagues caring about ministry together sharing their thoughts.
How would you add to this “conversation?” What thoughts do you have? What responses do you have? Join in! We need one another.
Molly – I heard Rick saying, “change is here.” I think it’s pretty hard to avoid any more!
I’m wondering how we embrace change and, instead of being reactive to it, get out ahead of it. I get that right now a lot of us are in a shock stage of grief and loss at these changes; but I think with conversation and support—as in any other grief—we will move through this season together and emerge with a fresh and deeper understanding of our call as Christ’s church and, I hope, an even more faithful discipleship.
What I want to do as well is affirm for one another that being the church together is not the question. Sometimes when the “how” we knew goes away, we’re afraid the “what” will disappear too. After Rick’s talk I feel we need to affirm that what we’re up to isn’t hopeless or pointless. We’re not going anywhere! We’ll figure out how—we’re good at reforming!—and we are still going to be church together.
So I guess I’m looking for the second half of the conversation. Rick clearly got us in touch with holding up that mirror to ourselves, getting real about “it’s not the 1950s or 60s anymore.” I’d like to start talking about what God has in store for us next. And affirm we’re still going to be traveling this road as a presbytery together. ‘Cause being a presbytery is crazy good stuff!
Beth– When I think about what is next for us, I think about our public witness. I think less about what we do in our buildings together but what we do as a result of our time together in our buildings. In other words, I think worship is essential but worship needs to fuel our work. And not programs – real work in the world around us. I want to hear us talking about the hurting places in our communities and how we can heal those hurting places.
Molly— I just read a great article about this today. The Presbytery’s Urban Working Group has been talking a lot about this. Maybe we’re asking in new ways who we are as an agent of life—in its fullest sense—both in the church and as the church in our society? The author’s making reference to the role that we as faith communities can play in our society through something called “faith-rooted organizing.” He reaffirms that we really do have a role, we truly do have a part to play in helping bring the gospel kingdom of justice and peace to all of creation! And we have an important history of partnership in mission in our denomination—we know we don’t do this work alone.
Beth: It sounds a little bit like Simon Synek “Start with Why.” Here’s his TED talk. Our Why is our purpose, cause or belief that inspires us to work. Essentially he says we spend a lot of time with the “what” that we do and some of us know the “how” of what we do, but dig deeper to know why. So for church, we could structure the question like this – We gather on Sundays. What do we do? We sing, pray, listen, reflect, learn. How do we do it? With musicians and pastors and lots of volunteers who care for our littlest ones and who put the coffee pot on. But why? Why do we gather on Sundays? The why is what gets us out of bed and into church. And more importantly, we all probably answer our own “why” a little differently.
Molly: I’ve been thinking maybe it’s a case of the what and how having become disconnected from the deepest why, which is one of those things that doesn’t change.
Beth: Sure. We’ve got the Great Ends to fall back on in terms of our “why.” But every time I walk through them with a new members class, I mostly get responses about how impossible those tasks are. They seem like too big of a list – so big it’s hard to start. So maybe it’s not that the “why” has changed but we in our congregations and ministries need to discern and implement the specific role God wants us to play in our world.
Molly: Our public worship and our public gatherings are a super important step in living out our public witness. I just read about a congregation doing this in some exciting ways. The love and justice has to happen there too. Our worship, our witness, our service must come from the same place—“we love because God first loved us” (John 4:19). I know I was drawn to the gospel as a teenager who didn’t know anything about the gospel or Jesus or the Bible when I saw people from all walks of life together in a church authentically caring for one another and welcoming me into that community. Are our people feeling, knowing that kind of community? Are we as pastoral leaders? Our being real with each other is going to push us to those hurting places you mention.
Beth: And the thing is – the younger generation wants for us to do mission. They want to enact love in such a way that the world is changed. That’s what they want to do with our resources. It’s a big change for us – moving from maintaining or sustaining an institution to creating and mobilizing a movement of Jesus followers.
Molly: Right. We’re finding ourselves caught in that necessary cycle of having built something—even something useful and good—and at a certain point we feel like I do about my home sometimes: it owns us rather than we own it. Since our numbers are smaller now, as Rick said was true about his home congregation, we can get real and talk about smart resizing, and with it freeing up and refocusing our time, energy and resources on what really matters. We’ll still have to do some institutional maintenance work—how we live our life together matters, and we do have people gifted for this work, and it is a ministry—but we’re turning our eyes and hearts in a new way back to why we do it in the first place.