Some months ago, one of my brothers forwarded part of a letter someone had posted about a conversation as they were leaving a leadership role in a church. It was the kind of conversation that made me wish I had been in there, or in a similar one, with a person of such gentle wisdom. There are such people. They’re not disappointed. They don’t cover some ‘you-really-should-have-done-better’ tone with an affirmation. You just know they are fine with how you are.
So, to the note. It read like this: I felt called to discover the next chapter of my life and ministry. I felt like I did my senior year of high school: that I’d completed my story here and was excited—and terrified—to discover the new story that was beckoning me.
But I met for coffee with a church member who had known me a long time, and shared with her how I’d made my decision to leave and what I hoped might come next. Before I could run off to my next appointment, she said, “It sounds like you want to spend this fall worrying about what you’re going to do next year. But I have another thought. What if instead you were present here this fall with us? I mean, what if you were present with your grief and the work of letting go? That would be the best preparation for you and for us for whatever comes next. In January you’ll know what you need to do.”
Such patient, careful and caring advice. There is time. Stay with your community for a while and let things sort themselves out a bit. And then, you will know. It makes so much sense that it begs the question … where do we get that need to see past the next turn, to shape the future before it comes to us, the need to be so secure in what is coming that our future becomes our entitlement, and we have to nail it down before it gets here.
Kathy and I were out for snacks (it was warm enough for an outdoor patio) with some friends last evening. We talked about the Canadian election, about covid – Alberta, Saskatchewan and other places in Canada now in full impact of the 4th wave – and other things. We’re all church people so we ended up also talking about the different places we are at in our relationship with the church, and, like the gentleman leaving his position, we are all kind of wondering what’s next. Past 55, we have lots to look back on. We all have a relationship with a local church body where we may even still have formal membership. In our conversation it felt like the local relationship is the one we sometimes wonder about. Not everything is as it was. The world has changed, and so have we all. One person said she is not sure the church is her community anymore. At least for now it’s not, so she’s not attending very often.
None of us are unbelievers; in fact, I suspect we are all probably more Christ conscious than ever. But maybe we’re a little weary of the evangelical church culture where we invested decades of our lives and raised our kids. Many are dismayed at how frightfully some parts of American evangelicalism have embraced a macho, militant, conquering, we-are-right-and-entitled Gospel … so completely unlike anything we know of Jesus. (I’ve just started reading Jesus and John Wayne: how white evangelicals corrupted a faith and fractured a nation.) And with the anti-vaccine, and anti-mask culture also emerging inside some evangelical churches, it’s begun to look like we, in the evangelical community have become, in some places, more belligerent than gracious, more about our own rights and freedoms than about caring … even for our own families and friends, let alone those we don’t know. It’s all enough to consume an otherwise lovely fall conversation on a patio about well, what’s coming next.
We also talked about what often seems like our need to be ‘doing things’, being productive, planning for growth, solving things … as if getting things done is the primary indicator of a healthy and meaningful life. A former head of a well-run NGO in Calgary once said, we’re doomed to growth. Unless we’re growing, he said, we are going backwards. I didn’t quite buy it then, and I’m not sure I buy it now, especially in thinking about the church, but also about our economies and institutions. It’s important, I know, but productivity, when it consumes us, is an exhausting approach to living, and in our relentless pursuit of it, many get left behind. Jacinda Ardern, PM of New Zealand, in 2019 said when all we measure is growth and GDP, we miss what ‘success’ and human well-being are about.
It was a good third-day-of-Fall conversation. We really didn’t solve anything but afterwards it reminded me of the advice of that good friend to the church leader anxious to see around the next corner. A conversation about patience, with ourselves and with each other … and time.