When asked to describe the work that I do, I will often say that I am a pastor to the pastor. I serve as a bowl where they can pour out the pain and anxiety of their difficult work in order to sort it through with God.
Many ministers I’m working with are experiencing deep despair and fear at the state of the church. They convey to me a sense of their own personal failure and acknowledge the decline of membership, giving, and involvement. These are good ministers who do good work. They are faithfully calling their churches to deeper discipleship and yet the results seem to worsen with every call. “What am I doing wrong?” they beg to know and would fix if they could name it.
When a refrain is repeated so very often and carries such an emotional charge, it is wise to name that elephant that is taking up so much space in the room of our collected being. And, as these brave pastors name their despair and fear, I am reminded of truth. Lean in close.
The Kin-dom of God* is not dying. The mysterious and good God is on the move and the end results are out of our hands. God is not disappointed in your genuine efforts to mature those in your spiritual care. God is not afraid of shrinking congregations. All the resources of this universe are God’s. The power that stopped the sun, healed the sick, and raised the dead is still at work in this world and this time, even in your church.
Breathe deep again.
Trust that the Story is still true.
Hold the results of your work more loosely.
Look for God’s infinite creativity already working out new solutions.
Remind yourself that those solutions will be good, for that is who God is, even if you can’t see the goodness yet.
Does this mean that your church membership will be as you know it in 10 years? I don’t know.
Does this mean that your staff, your job description, your salary will be the same in 5 years? I don’t know.
For some, you may discover that your work in this season is to guide your church toward dying well. This is noble, hard, God-filled work and it is intricately nuanced as well. There is deeper discipleship to be found in learning to die with your eyes on generativity and grace. You will first need to glimpse the vision before inviting your church to do the same. Choose to turn your worrying, fretting energy to softening your gaze toward the future.
God’s work has been unfolding since before time began and will surpass your understanding and management of it. Search the story of scripture with eyes to see how God has moved in the past. Use that vision to search for where God is already moving. Join there. Move in this direction. This is looking with resurrection eyes into an unknown future.
The faith that this season requires of all who are faithful to the Kin-dom of God is to believe that death is not the end. Death of a person is not the end. Death of a dream is not the end. Death of an expectation is not the end. Death of a church is not the end. We follow a risen Christ; did we forget that you have to die before you are raised?
* “Kin-dom” of God is a phrase in feminist theology introduced by Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz. Click on the link to learn more.