Our nominations committee has encountered a recurring issue. It's been an issue for years and we've tried everything. Some things don't work at all. Some things get negative reactions. Some things work for a while but then the issue reemerges and we are back to the drawing board.
We have lots of eager workers. Our community of faith is considered 'a going concern'. We make a huge, positive impact on our neighbourhood and are known by many of the local services. We feel pretty good about who we are.
But we can't find leadership for our committees.
Our council and committees are full of vacancies. Some of those vacancies are rather important.
Once again, we have lots of workers, but few wanting to commit to leadership.
A recurring story that seems to emerge is that we expect things to keep going the way they are going, but we expect someone else to do it.
Our Elders have discerned with the help of a resource person, Kathy Davies, from the Conference Offices that the issue isn't technical, its adaptive. There is something about the way the world has changed around us to which we as a congregation have not yet adapted.
Adaptive change involves change to our very being. Our values, our expectations, our identity, our sense of meaning all come to the surface when we are engaging in an adaptive change. What's more, the way forward is unknown. Often, we won't even know where to go to look for answers or resources. Adaptive change scares us and always involves learning something totally new, often something that we never imagined needing to know before.
Most importantly, there is no "one size fits all" solution when adaptation is required. No one can do the work for us, we have to do it ourselves, discover our own way through. Together.
Over the next couple months, I'm going to explore weekly in this blog Four Steps to Christian Adaptation. I will not be producing annotated papers with footnotes and references, but rather writing reflections on information I've assimilated, my encounter with the Christian tradition, and my own spiritual experience.
The four steps:
1) Experience God
2) Understand the experience in a Christian context
3) Share that experience in a non-Christian context
4) Choose your media intentionally
If your message isn't fueled by an experience of the transformative power of an experience of the divine, then pack up and go home. No one is going to come fill your committees and leadership teams if you, yourself, are not experiencing something of what it means to "be saved," "redeemed," "made in the image and likeness of God," "called," "sanctified," "born again," "renewed," "reconciled," "forgiven," blah, blah, blah... Whatever you want to call it. If you haven't had your heart broken open and made new, broken again and raised even more, your Gospel isn't worth dozens, hundreds? of hours of volunteer time needed to run our institution. Get saved - whatever that means.
Understand the Experience in a Christian Context
You, yes YOU, need to understand YOUR experience within the grand tradition of the Christian Church. Good and bad. The Church has sinned. The Church has committed atrocities. The Church has also nurtured community, healed the sick, fed the hungry, and called for justice. Where are you in that tradition? Where is the congregation? Are you and your congregation on the same page? If not, there's some work to do. Is this the congregation for you?
Share that Experience in a Non-Christian Context
Now, the hard cold truth for folks in the United Church of Canada is that in general, we aren't very good at this. It's the minister's job. But the fact is, I as a minister, no longer have access to your children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren. You do. Neither do I generally have access to your friends, your neighbours, or the rest of your family, or your social network. That is... unless you share my blogs. But the next truth is, that folks won't be touched by you telling them a Bible story. They might be touched by YOUR faith story. If you don't know what YOUR faith story is, see the previous steps. Finally, we share our stories without expectation of outcome. We are just sharing our hearts and what makes meaning for us. And we make ourselves open to receiving the same.
Choose Your Media Intentionally
Media for delivering the Christian message has changed over the millennia. Jesus taught, preached and modeled a way of being. Paul wrote letters, the gospel writers, Gospels. Apologists wrote apologies, usually dialogues; martyrs were martyred. Then laws were written, liturgies were developed, churches were built and filled with artwork. All of these were media for conveying the message. Wars, imperialism, residential schools were also media for spreading the message; media we need to stop using. More recently news papers, radio and television were used. For us today, if we want to speak to the world and be heard, we need to engage social media. We need to speak in ways that those we want to hear - can hear.
In the world we live, there is no shortage of loneliness, estrangement, alienation, oppression and suffering. Our Christian story is one of the ways that loneliness, estrangement, alienation, oppression and suffering are dispelled. The world is in desperate need of what we have to offer. If we become successful at the four steps: experiencing God, understanding that experience in a Christian context, sharing that experience in a non-Christian context and using a medium that can deliver that message to the world... our committees may take care of themselves.