In my last post, I declare that it’s time to be bold again, and I end with the question:
“How do we as the church best respond in these uncertain times to ensure that God’s grace is known far and wide through our witness and action?”
How indeed. I told you to stay tuned, then I hit the publish button and took a deep breath, because here’s the thing, folks: I have no idea.
Okay, that’s not quite true. As someone who has spent my life helping others do what they do better, and who feels a deep sense of call to my beloved Moravian Church, I have plenty of ideas. And, if you know me at all, you know I am certainly not shy about sharing my opinions. But they are just that. Mine. It is not up to me to tell you how we go about being the church in the future. This is not an individual activity, and no one individual, regardless of his or her dedication, brilliance, charisma, or position, has all the answers.
So let me tell you what I DO know:
- The river has moved, people. Consider the Choluteca Bridge in Honduras, built to withstand deadly hurricanes. When Hurricane Mitch came along in 1998, it dumped 75 inches of rain in less than four days and destroyed 150 bridges, but it could not destroy the Choluteca. But take a closer look at that photo. The bridge survived the storm, but the storm moved the river! Similarly, the institutional church is strong and has weathered many storms over the centuries, but the river has moved. While the temptation is great to try and redirect the massive river back under that bridge, the work set before us is to build a new bridge.
- The Church is facing an adaptive challenge. There are two types of challenges that leaders in any field have to address:
- Technical challenges are situations we’ve encountered numerous times and require quick fixes, problem solving, or consultation with experts. Examples of this include going to a mechanic when your car breaks down or visiting the dentist to fix a broken tooth.
- Adaptive challenges are situations that present new dilemmas and uncharted territory. Adaptive challenges require not the predefined answers of experts, but the hard work of discernment by those most affected by the problem. Examples include solving world hunger or reforming public education.
There is no road map for the journey we are on. We’ll have to learn new ways of thinking and doing, use our imaginations, and discern solutions with each other, the ones most affected by these uncertain, complex times.
- With great challenge comes great possibility. We know the river has moved and we know that
what we face is a complex, adaptive challenge. But our history as Moravians proves that we can rise to the occasion. While persecution, exile, and the sorry state of the human condition immobilized and frightened many of their day, our early Moravian brothers and sisters discovered opportunity and even beauty in those constraints. These bold followers of Jesus blazed forward, undeterred, as they expressed spirituality in community, welcomed women into ministry, embraced diversity, and sacrificed nearly everything for their mission. Over the years, though, we modern-day Moravians have grown slowly complacent in our comfortable sanctuaries. We are keepers of our great heritage, but what about the boldness? How do we take the constraints we face today, such as declining membership, shrinking resources, or competing values, and create opportunities to share faith, love, and hope with the world? Settling in and doing what we’ve always done will not solve the challenges we face. Now is the time to demonstrate creativity, openness, flexibility, and yes, boldness.
- Transformative leadership is required. Transformative leaders focus on motivation and formation, and they do it out of a deep sense of call. I’m not just talking about clergy. We all must be transformative as we encourage one another. Transformative leaders create environments that enable people to survive and thrive through change. When we nurture the giftedness and possibilities of people and invite them to be part of the solutions we seek, it is only then that our organizational culture begins to adjust and adapt. Interested in knowing more about what transformative leadership looks like? Consider being part of the next Moravian Leadership experience. We need you!
- We have to do this together. Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, tells us how we are to live as the community that is the church. We are to live with each other like Christ – being relational, forgiving, patient, loving, and gentle. And before we can do that, we have to know we are holy, chosen, and dearly beloved by God (3:12).
We must love each other, even when we disagree about many things. As I write this, the PCUSA is holding its 222nd General Assembly (similar to our Synod) in Portland, Oregon. Bruce Reyes-Chow, a Presbyterian minister and author, reflected on Facebook about his experience there:
“One of the most difficult, but essential and transformational, aspects of meetings like General Assembly is when friends and colleagues passionately disagree with one another, the vote is taken, and we choose to remain friends and colleagues. While some might see this as a lack of integrity, selling out or even, “dining with the devil,” I see this as the living expression of mutual forbearance, the body faithfully discerning the will of God, and ultimately, why I choose to claim my seat at the table that Christ has prepared.”
Let’s continue to sit together at Christ’s table even as we face forces that would tear us apart.
- We have to know WHY we’re doing it. We get so overwhelmed by life and its accompanying challenges it is very easy to forget why we are here, in this place, together. Christ and Him crucified remain our confession of faith. What else can we do but respond to this gift of grace with our faith in God, our love for God and our neighbor, and our hope in this life and the next?
During the 2012 Moses Lectures at Moravian Theological Seminary, Peter Vogt, co-pastor of the Moravian Congregation of Herrnhut (yes, THAT Herrnhut) reminded us that “we . . . are called to live as a community that is faithful to the message of God’s love, as given to us in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” He concludes by saying that
“our concern about the identity of what it means to be Moravian should not be guided by the fear of loss…or by the focus on preserving our historical heritage, but rather by the desire to become what God is calling us to be.”
Indeed. Let’s embrace these beautiful constraints we face as a Church today and, together, determine what God is calling us to be, then do it and be it. Amen.
Heifetz, Ronald A., and Martin Linsky. Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School, 2002. Print.
McFayden, Kenneth J. Strategic Leadership for a Change: Facing Our Losses, Finding Our Future. Herndon, VA: Alban Institute, 2009. Print.
Morgan, Adam, and Mark Barden. A Beautiful Constraint: How to Transform Your Limitations into Advantages, and Why It’s Everyone’s Business. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2015. Print. (View more on this idea here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfVJpEnh7wCJJoO5tS3EYZg)
Nelson, Gary V. Rev. Dr., and Peter M. Dickens. Leading in DisOrienting Times Navigating Church and Organizational Change. Ashland: Christian Board Of Pub Tcp, 2015. Print.
Vogt, Peter. “How Moravian Are the Moravians? The Paradox of Moravian Identity.” The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church. Volume 19, Issue 3 (Winter 2013-14): 3-20. Moravian Theological Seminary. Center for Moravian Studies. Web. 24 June 2016. https://issuu.com/moravianseminary/docs/hinge_19.3 .
–Ruth Cole Burcaw is Executive Director of the Board of Cooperative Ministries. She and her family are members of Unity Moravian Church in Lewisville, NC. Below, Ruth and her family celebrate daughter Jessy’s graduation from Appalachian State University in May 2015.