As our congregation works through a thorough process to discern God’s vision, it is no surprise to me that the process is being met with some resistance. I’ve heard everything from, ‘this is one more plan we had that turned into nothing,’ to ‘is this really what we want? change?’ to ‘let’s just give up.’ It can be disheartening to hear people respond with so much fear. But the key for leadership is to realize that is what it is…fear. When people have a negative attitude about the positive things that the Holy Spirit is doing right in front of them, what that says to me is, “We are afraid.”
‘What will this change look like? How will this be different? And by the way, some things are already different, and I don’t like different. We know there is a need for change and we would like to have more money to feel more comfortable about our budget fulfillment, but let’s make changes over there, where they don’t affect me or my comfort level.’
THIS IS NORMAL
It’s not comfortable, but it is normal. The other day I had a crown put on a back tooth that has not had a root canal. There was no anesthesia. The dental assistant prepared me for the whole procedure (once I asked her to). There were some moments of discomfort, and there was one moment that was unbearable when the dentist froze the cement with cold air, but the assistant kept assuring me…it was normal.
Normal does not mean comfortable. Faith does not mean certainty. But discernment through prayer, Bible study, and discussion will lead us to GOD’S VISION. And that is our goal. It is not to reach an agreed upon plan. It is not to reach what sounds like a good idea. We are searching for GOD’S VISION.
And the way I know that our struggle and fear is normal, is that it is Biblical. Consider the Israelites who followed Moses out of Egypt into the wilderness. They had survived the plagues, including the spirit of death. They had quickly eaten and packed and left with what they could carry, Pharaoh and his army behind them the whole way. They crossed the Red Sea where the Holy Spirit parted the waters for their safe travel. The sea walls closed in on Pharaoh’s army and they were free. But just about one an a half months into their journey, the people began to be afraid.
Exodus 16:1b-4a “on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. 2The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’4 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I am going to rain bread from heaven for you,”
We’ve had six groups of any where from three to four people each, praying for 120 days, discussing issues of vision, studying scripture, building intimacy, praying together for one another and for Christ’s ministry in the church and change is beginning to show. People are having fun together. The Elders are considering the blessings and the difficult work that comes with being shepherds of Christ’s sheep. Ideas are coming to light about building relationships, deepening those relationships, being open to God’s change in our lives and in our ministry. People are reporting the joy they see in our ministry rather than fear. People are beginning to feel a renewal of excitement. But this is different from the excitement when I preached the sermon series, “Let’s Get Fired UP!” This is different from the excitement when everyone was excited to see a new minister and what SHE could and would do. This is an excitement that comes from a foundational level. It is an excitement that comes from the heart and head of our church, Jesus Christ and the movement of the Holy Spirit.
Is there fear? Of course there is…we are human, and we are more comfortable being afraid than we are being comfortable. But the message from God throughout scripture continues to be, “Fear not,” “Be not afraid,” “Do not fear.” When God wants to calm our fears, God does it with intention. I imagine it being like the scene in Steel Magnolias where M’Lynn (Sally Fields) talks Shelby (Julia Roberts) down from her low blood sugar. She calmly puts her hands on both sides of her daughters shaking face to make eye contact, and to help bring focus, and she tells her exactly what she wants to communicate. M’Lynn says, “Shelby, drink the juice!”
Okay, maybe that’s not a good image, maybe it is more like Luke’s telling of the birth story when God’s messenger lit up the night sky on the hills overlooking Bethlehem to bring focus and get the attention of the shepherds, telling them not to be afraid, but to hear good news of great joy. And then that angel was joined by a multitude of angels singing praises to God. Or any other of over 300 places in scripture where God tries to calm the fears of God’s people so that they will faithfully follow.
It may be natural to react with fear, but it is faithful to follow God boldly into a future where God promises hope. and though there is resistance and a temptation to live into fear, I am prayerful and will be faithful to the call to live into hope.