Many of you are most likely familiar with the Choose Your Own Adventure, or Secret Path Books. In these series of children’s books, where each story is written from a second-person point of view, the reader assumes the role of the main character, and makes choices that determine the outcome of the book.
We are in a similar situation as we lead and serve in circumstances that are unfolding each and every day. We know and are convinced that God is the ultimate author of His Story. We are also aware that we are part of His Story and that we have the privilege of shepherding people into a deeper understanding about what it means to live in His Kingdom.
This past year has been hard and long, and as Covid restrictions begin to loosen, we need to process and assess how to best lead our people through the next chapters of this earthly book. Each day brings new guidelines for us to sort out. It seems that no matter what decisions we make, there will be people who are unhappy or dissatisfied. Like the Choose your Own Adventure books, we find ourselves in a place where the first part of the book is ending and we need to decide what path the adventure will take next – and none of the options seem ideal. How do we lead our congregations through the unknowns of transitioning to a place of spiritual formation and flourishing after a season of separation and difficulty?
Following are some truths to remember when you’re faced with choosing your next path:
Remember the end of The Story.
Recently, I heard a story about an individual who was going through our church’s Alpha program. He was excited about reading the Bible and made an interesting decision to read the last book first! You can imagine the conversation that ensued when he talked to his table leader; he was totally confused by the content. In response, the table leader said, “It’s confusing to me, too!” That humorous story is a reminder that, while we may not understand all of the imagery in the book of Revelation, one thing is certain: Jesus wins! We win through Christ! Heaven awaits us as we persevere and remember that the trials of this world pale in comparison to the glory of eternity. Keep the end of God’s story in mind as you interact with your staff, lay leaders and congregants, because focusing on the end of that story brings hope! Be an example of hope as you stay rooted in the truth of God’s word and lead people with confidence characterized by humility.
Discern next steps.
Confident leadership doesn’t mean making decisions quickly. There is a delicate dance that occurs between listening and speaking. It’s important that we wait on the Spirit’s direction before we communicate what our next chapters entail. My “go to” example of this is Nehemiah. You may know the story: He hears about the devastation in Jerusalem and is dismayed because the people are in “great trouble.” His immediate response is to mourn, weep and pray because his heart was broken for the people. Many of the individuals in our churches are in “great trouble.” They are struggling spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically. In reality, many of us may be struggling as well with the weariness of this season, which is all the more reason we need to listen to the Spirit of God to discern the next chapters for our churches. Nehemiah waited to communicate his plan, but he also listened to the Lord in the waiting.
Create a team.
One verse in scripture that grips my mind and heart is found in 1 Chronicles 12:32, “From the tribe of Issachar, there were 200 leaders of the tribe with their relatives. All these men understood the signs of the times and knew the best course for Israel to take.” (NLT) This verse is tucked away in the chapter that mentions tens of thousands who are joining David to take up arms. But what stands out to me are the 200 men who were wise and discerned their situation. We need lay leaders, men and women, who are mature in their faith and who are wise about handling difficult circumstances. These forward-thinking individuals, chosen for their humility, knowledge and wisdom are invaluable in writing the next chapters in your church’s story. Be willing to seek the counsel of staff and lay leaders to participate in the decision-making process about how to lead our congregations through this next season. While that takes more time and energy, it also creates ownership and more voices who affirm where you are going.
Stay the course.
This past year has brought challenges that we could not have imagined. It has also brought opportunities that we should lean into. Because we know the end of His Story, we can choose the next chapters in our churches’ stories to help take our people on a great adventure that brings them closer to the hope and beauty of eternity. Now is the time, more than ever, to persevere with and challenge our people to a deeper walk with Christ. For some people, they used Covid as an opportunity to seize more time with Jesus, and as a result are growing and thriving. But for many others, Covid brought discouragement and a disruption of spiritual rhythms which did not have deep roots to begin with. As we move forward into these next chapters, let’s write them with an even greater intentionality to help our people “be” with Jesus.
Paul writes in Philippians that, “we should forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead.” Let’s remember those words and apply them to our leadership as we “choose the adventure” and write the next chapters for our churches. While the ending of His Story is the same for all of us, the next chapters for our respective churches will be different. While keeping the ultimate end in mind, each of us needs to discern the best next steps for our particular church. May we each lean into the Hope of the Gospel and live out the truth of His Story as we discern His next steps. Take your church on an adventure as you guide them through the next steps of your church’s story. May these next chapters lead to flourishing and formation in a way that reveals God’s presence in amazing and life-changing ways!