This Great Idea comes from Rev. Emily Meyer, Executive Director of The Ministry Lab.
Our Jewish neighbors celebrate Shabbat every Friday evening on our shared deck. It is a lovely thing to behold, as parents teach their children the rituals, songs, and prayers; as special foods are shared; as spiritual truths are remembered and practiced. Extended family often make the deck a lively place. We have a standing invitation to join them. Many religious groups share in-home practices that far exceed Christians at-home experience or expression.
As we continue to work our way through Covid restrictions, racial reckonings, political divisions, and climate turmoil, some Christians seem intent upon “going back” to a “normal” that was not particularly healthy or sustainable. Yet, American Christians are hardly the first or the only group of religious/spiritual peoples to find their communal life in upheaval and in need of reorganizing.
How might we learn from our neighbors from other traditions? How might different ways of being church become valid and life-giving for Christians? How might Christianity emerge from this time of isolation rejuvenated and re-empowered to be Christ’s Body building together God’s Beloved Community?
Step One: Be consistent using language that builds a culture open to alternatives:
- Lists of what you “miss” and phrases like “get back to normal” endorse the idea that “going back” is both desirable and possible. Neither of which is true! Reshape personal and communal expectations by consistently using emergent language. Plural Guild’s Words Matter seminar may be helpful here.
- Expand on this emerging narrative by Rethinking Worship – worship, after all, is both what we do and how God shapes us.
Step Two: Ask and invite others to share leading questions:
- How can we be Christ’s Body, right here and now? That is, How would Love show up in our community? The Love. Period. podcast may be helpful here.
- Who are our neighbors? How has the Spirit equipped us to meet their needs? Neighbor Love through Fearful Days may help in these deliberations. Or see 9 Strategies for Meeting People and Learning Their Needs.
- What might we let go, to make room for what’s next?
- See Lewis Center for Church Leadership’s Right Questions for Church Leaders.
Whether the desire to “go back” is based on practicality (i.e., what you’re currently equipped to do), tradition (an inability to imagine church any other way than “how we’ve always done it”), or resistance to guilt or shame (a need to change can be experienced as an indictment; an inference that we’ve been doing something “wrong”):
Step Three: Address resistance to transformation with honesty, openness, and reality. Our Leading through Change/Conflict lib guide can help. Also:
- Good theology helps:
- Bible Study is useful. [I will gladly help you craft something to your context on]:
- Genesis: Creation = lots of change
- What might creation teach us about order/disorder/reorder (as Richard Rohr puts it), or life/death/resurrection (as Jesus puts it)?
- What Wisdom is embedded in nature that might shed light on these transformational times? [See also Church of the Wild: How Nature Invites Us into the Sacred]
- Exodus = hugely transformative time
- Genesis: Creation = lots of change
- Where did the early church go from the locked room of fear? How might that inform how we become the church, today?
- How many different ways is resurrection described or identified in the Bible?
- One of these could inform perceptions of resurrection/restructuring.
- Partner any one of these books with Revelation and see what happens.
- A healthy look at reality may also help folx get on board:
- See Rev. Natalia Terfa’s, The Church and the Great Resignation. She sites two additional articles that shed some light on our current contexts.
Step Four: Take advantage of current climates and realities to be transformed on purpose:
- What could we learn from members and organizations among our BIPOC communities who have experienced displacement for generations? [Engagement with actual people will be most beneficial here, but for starters, see our Restorative Justice and Spirituality, Identity, & Healing lib guides.]
- How would our LGBTQIA+ siblings have us emerge with more inclusivity and openness? If God Is Love Don’t Be a Jerk might inform this conversation; or one of these might help.
- Can a desire for greater accessibility inform our transformation? Listening to members and neighbors who are differently-abled may spark life-giving approaches to being and doing. The Accessible Altar or anything from here, here, or here is a great place to start listening.
- What might we learn from religious groups from around the world who have been exiled from their sacred lands, their holy temples, from their traditional ways of living and worshiping multiple times and in multiple ways throughout history? [Again, personal engagement will be most beneficial, but you can get a start in our Interreligious Dialogue or Pluralism Sunday lib guides; see also Convergence’s on-demand webinar, National Faith Leaders Reflect on a Global Pandemic.]
- Turning Ourselves Inside Out shares stories of 35 faith communities who have undergone significant upheaval – and come out thriving.
- Our Reimagining Church: Diversity lib guide has some excellent ideas for further reading.
Embracing God’s call to transformation and moving with the Spirit toward resurrection life is a lot more hopeful, joyful, and sustainable than the alternative. Yes, there is work in all of this – but we are Christ’s Body – and with God, nothing is impossible!
The long and short of it is that very few of us had a pre-Covid “normal” that is healthy for us to return to. Folx outside of Christianity are experiencing the same displacement as we are; many have experienced it for a lot longer than the past several months. Focus outward – for inspiration, purpose, and wisdom and let God’s work in and through others be your guide!
Hang in there, weary leaders. We are on a road to New Life!!