I recently had a long conversation in my backyard with a bunch of my neighbours about how they ended up in the careers that they are currently in.
One guy told a vivid story about how he stumbled into a job straight out of school and had basically learned his trade on the job. He worked away in the same job until something unusual would happen. His boss would walk in and offer him a job in another city, or his company got bought out by another one and he got a redundancy, or even his wife wanted to move country and so he was forced to make a change. In short he extolled the virtue of ‘taking life as it comes’, a sort of ‘wait for life to happen to you’ philosophy.
His wife on the other hand saw things differently.
She burst out of university with a fairly good idea of where she wanted to head. She turned down some job offers in order to wait for a better one. She applied herself to her work while she was there but she constantly had one eye on her industry to see, “what else could be out there” and asked herself, “what would I have to do to get that opportunity”. She saw the future as something to be ‘grasped and created’ rather than something to ‘waited for and experienced’. I am not sure if either one is right or wrong but it sure made for an interesting discussion.
It was enough to get me thinking about how I choose to approach my life of faith and the future of my own spiritual growth. Do I think that if I hang around church long enough and read enough Christian books that over time I will simply grow and be transformed? Or do I see my spiritual future as something to be ‘grasped and created’? Is the future of my church something where I would prefer to ‘wait and see what happens’? Or should I begin to dream about what I wish it was like and then seek to ‘grasp and create’ a preferred future?
Over the past decade, I have sat across tables from many people who have poured out their hearts to me about how their own life of faith or their own church experience is nowhere near what they hoped it would be. There seems to be no shortage of people who can name the problems and shortcomings. I often quote to them the well known saying that, “The only future we have, is the one we create”. I encourage them to draw a line in the sand and to begin to go and create the kind of future that they would desperately like to be a part of, but the truth is they rarely do. They tell me that , “they are not able to start something new”, “they are too busy with work at the moment, it’s not the right time”, or that “they need to see someone else develop and test some new ideas first before they risked trying something different”. These may all be good reasons I guess, but we must also understand that these answers leave us squarely in the camp of ‘wait and experience’ what the future throws at us, rather than the ‘grasp and create’ camp.
My personal feeling is that God loves us taking calculated risks because it places us in a liminal space, which is where we are going to have to trust him in order to see it through. I sense that we are in a season where we must innovate because the world is changing so fast that we will need to experiment with new ways to approach discipleship, spiritual formation and church community. I don’t claim to know what that future looks like, but I do know that some more people are going to have to gravitate towards the ‘grasp and create’ version of the future, if we want to find solutions for the challenges facing the church.
In my experience, our current practice is often the biggest hindrance to us finding a better future. The truth is, we are all struggling to work out how to live the life of faith and our day and how to form and sustain groups, communities and churches. What is certain however is that we need to learn how to fall forward through these challenges and find a new and creative vigour in living the Way of Jesus.
This is the work of missionaries, to go into a new culture with nothing but the gospels and a willingness to listen, learn and to reinterpret the message for a new group of people. This missionary work is a work that most of us have not been trained for but one that we desperately need to rediscover. Missionary work often does not come easy to those of us trained as pastors because it is often a long and confusing task. If we are doing it right it stretches and pulls at our theology, our practice and our traditions. We may find ourselves in long seasons where ‘everyone is not OK’ and we are powerless to ‘fix’ things for our flock and so we shy away. I read of one missionary recently who lamented that, “if the missionary has really done their job well, then they probably will feel uncomfortable and culturally removed from the church they have created”. Ouch…
I find this personally sobering because as much as I would dearly love for someone else to take the risks and move into liminal space, the reality is there is no-one else who can do it for me and my church. Like so many biblical characters before us, God often calls us to step out before the answers present themselves. This is the journey of faith. To walk with God into an uncertain future even if it is a confusing mixture of failure and success. I would like to think that the upside is that God can be trusted, and he is more than capable of leading us into the future in a way that teaches us how to better connect with people and more faithfully love him and our neighbours.
You may be feeling like you are up for the challenge of attempting to create a different future for your own faith and the church community around you but you are unsure of where to start. If that is the case then the best thing I can say to you is “you’re not alone”. There is a growing number of people who are talking about these issues and attempting to find ways forward together. If that is you then we would love to try and hear your story and see if we can’t find some ways to work together.