“Where there is no vision, the people perish…” Proverbs 29:18
I recently attended a church conference where the theme focused on how the church can discern what the future might look like in both the near and distant realities. The conversation centered around our “post covid” situation, the dynamics of the polarities we are experiencing in race relations, politics, social and cultural issues, and the stresses that we as a culture have endured and are enduring over these past few years.
The questions more specific to church leaders and leadership today varied from what does it mean now that most every pastor has become a “televangelist” due to covid (whether they wanted to or not); or how do we respond to the reality that many people seem to have “wandered away from worship” and do not seem inclined to return; to questions we wrestled with before covid, like, how do we engage younger generations that are not participating in our churches, the decline of church attendance over the past 60 years and the diminished role our churches play in the lives of our communities.
The questions seemed to be summed up with a sense of “What does the church look like and what are we called to be in this post covid, polarized and broken world?” We might phrase it more in terms of “What and who are we being called to be as the church today?”
These are questions of discernment and of visioning. It is clear that we find ourselves in new territory here. We realize that we cannot go back to “normal”, or what life was like pre-covid. It feels as though we are living like the Israelites wandering in the wilderness seeking the promised land, who found themselves longing for the good old days (in slavery in Egypt), sitting by the fleshpots and eating their fill of bread. One person described it by saying “I don’t know what the church looks like 10-20 years from now, but this is not it.”
So how do we discern the future, what does visioning look like? What process might we use to discover the future God has in store for us. Because clearly with no vision we will perish.
- It begins with prayer. Corporate, individual, ongoing prayer. Seeking God’s wisdom, presence and guidance. Including specific situations and realities of the community and congregation. Lamenting what was and may never be again. Gratitude for what is new and growing in our midst. Confession for our shortcomings and where we have failed to live out our calling faithfully.
- Then there is time for reflection. Naming those things that have been lost, sharing our feelings of grief, and in some cases gratitude. Letting go of what was and will never be again – giving thanks for the blessings that were received. Naming those things that have endured, counting the blessings they provide.
- Third is the opportunity for open conversation. Everyone in the congregation invited to participate. Asking questions about their discernment. What are the 3 greatest needs in our community that we might address? What talents, passions and blessing do we have and how might we best offer them? What passions has God instilled in you that are not yet being explored? How has God called us to respond in this place and time?
Expand the conversation – reach out to other congregations in the community, service organizations, social service agencies, elected officials, etc. Ask questions about where the particular needs of the community are not being met. Where are the talents and resources among us that we can engage to meet those needs.
Prayer, reflection, conversation …. intentional activities to discern where we have been, where we are, and where we are headed. A process by which we might begin to cast a vision for how we are called to serve in our communities and the world around us.
Scott A. Jacob
Sr. Program Director
The James Company