Change is here to stay.
Whether we like it or not we need to learn how to mold our lives and those of our congregations so that we bend rather than break. Fortunately there are ways to adapt so that our faith grows and strengthens during these times. Here are some principles I have found helpful:
Identify or Establish Stability Zones
Identify those aspects of your personal and congregational life that will not change. Identify stabilizing values, spiritual routines and relationships that draw you close to God and to each other. Preach about them and establish ways to live them out in small groups and bible studies. It is these practices that maintain our sense of order and security in the world. Without them we have no anchors for our lives.
I have just attended the Inhabit Conference, which encourages people to live, work and minister in the same community. When life falls apart, or we get a pay increase we immediately consider relocating to a more prestigious suburb or to a place where jobs might be more plentiful. Sometimes this is necessary, but moving always adds to our emotional and spiritual instability. It uproots us from the stabilizing influence of friends and the spiritual communities that anchor our lives.
Surround Yourself with “At Home” Items
This is something I learned when I lived on the mercy ship M/V Anastasis and travelled constantly rarely feeling I knew where home was. Family photos, pictures of my favorite at home scenes in Australia, making a meal of familiar comfort foods all helped me to relax and feel secure. In church crosses, banners, and communion tables may provide this at home feeling. Ask your congregation: What are the “at home” items that make you feel this is home?
Establish and Maintain Stable Friendships
Mobile societies specialize in disposable relationships. We move and close the door on friendships we have forged and look for new relationships. Nothing is more disruptive. Facebook, smart phones and email make staying in touch so easy that there is no excuse for giving up friends anywhere in the world. And for a new church, plant planning celebrations that allow those who have moved to participate may form foundational stability that will encourage growth into the future.
One privilege of my life is friends all over the world. Nurturing these relationships is a huge and beneficial part of my life. Reminiscing on the good and the bad we have shared together often gives me confidence to face new challenges.
Identify Enemy Factors
What are the greatest temptations and destabilizing influences for both you and your church? These are the enemy factors. A little introspection and honesty gives all of us an idea of our own particular areas of struggle. How have you dealt with these in the past? What practices could you establish now to decrease your vulnerability in the future?
For example as a young adult I was prone to depression. I was most vulnerable when I was alone and feeling sorry for myself. Journalling each week on what I was grateful for and where I saw God at work totally transformed my view of the world and tendency to depression.
Affirm the Good (don’t concentrate on the bad)
The more we focus on the good things in our lives no matter how trivial, the easier it is to handle the bad. Ann Voskamp’s wonderful book One Thousand Gifts, taught many of us to incorporate gratitude into our daily lives. Unfortunately bad news still travels faster and speaks louder than good. The fact the internet instantly appraises us of disaster, glimpses of hope and redemption requires more effort. Consider a place in your service to ask: What are you grateful for this week?
Our normal response to sudden change is rejection. We dig in our heels, cling tightly to what is familiar and try to barricade ourselves into the world that is passing. In Mustard Seed Associates we help people think about how the world is changing and how we as God’s people should change now in order to be more effective in the future. Looking for positive responses to the challenges we face in our world, before their full impact hits will make a huge difference to our ability to cope and to continue to be God’s compassionate response to our neighbors near and far.
Look after yourself
I love the imagery of how God dealt with the stressed out prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 19.Here he is running away from Jezebel frightened and depressed. He is ready to die. God lets him lie down gives him rest, food and water and only then deals with his depression. God knows how important good sleep, good food and good exercise are for all of us and encourages us to keep our minds and our bodies healthy. When I get too busy I stop working out in the garden and sometimes I stop doing regular exercise. Neither are good for me and my spiritual and emotional as well as my physical body suffer.
Providing a stabile and secure environment in which faith and life can be nurtured is one of the most challenging responsibilities of any church.
How well do you do in providing this environment?
“I want to learn from Jon at The Praxis Gathering!”
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