by Rev. Beth Ann Estock, Director of New Faith Communities, Oregon/Idaho Conference
"Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning.” Luke 12:35
I remember well the day we brought our first born home from the hospital. It took my husband about 30 minutes to figure out how to secure the car seat safely in the car. Something so easy seemed to confound both of us! And that has epitomized our learning process ever since as parents. At times it feels like we are in a dark room, looking for the light switch and bumping into furniture along the way.
The best advice that I got as a new parent was this bit of grace, “Don’t worry about the future and what you don’t know, instead focus on what you are going through right now because as your children grow so will you.” This advice has helped us as we encounter new stages of parenting with the particular challenges that each phase brings. Because let’s face it, as parents we can get hyper-vigilant on worrying about the small stuff, blowing out of proportion what is happening in the present into some potential future catastrophe.
I think one way we mitigate that fear of the future is to create ritual and find comfort in routines. We may end up vacationing in the same place every year, having the same food at holidays, or even finding comfort in the same morning and bedtime rituals. This is fine if we are aware of what we are doing, but most often we tend to go through our daily life on auto-pilot.
That is why as a parent it is important to ask the big picture questions as well like the following:
How do we want to function as a family?
What are the values that we want to live by?
What are the practices that will help us to be shaped and formed in those ways?
And how will we hold each other accountable to living this out?
It is similar with life in the church. Sometimes we can get so hyper-focused on the weekly schedule that we lose sight of the big picture.
Patrick Lencioni, president of The Table Group, an organizational development consulting firm, and author of several best-selling management books says that a healthy organization minimizes the potential for confusion by clarifying why the organization exists and which behavioral values are fundamental.
It is important as a ministry matures to make it a practice to ask on a regular basis the following questions.
Why does the ministry/church exist?
What behavioral values are fundamental?
How do we live these values out?
What makes us unique?
What do we plan to achieve?
Who is responsible for what?
These questions help us to live with integrity as children of God. When we ask these kinds of questions it seems like potential problems stay in balance instead of blowing up out of proportion.
I love Jesus’ many references to staying awake and keeping our lamps burning which is appropriate not only in the season of Advent, but throughout the seasons of our lives and church planting. He is not calling us to a frenetic vigilance, but rather to an awakened consciousness. He is reminding us that his way is one of open hearts and deep listening that trusts in the unfolding of grace in the present moment. One way we can stay awake in the church is to keep asking key questions about our values and practices as we listen deeply for God’s spirit to continually transform us.
As your church matures and the list of responsibilities and potential problems grow I invite you to consider the questions above and ponder how churches can stay true to their mission and roots as they continue to grow and develop.