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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Uncomfortable Possibility

Written by: on June 3, 2015

“What churches need are not more entrepreneurial leaders with wonderful plans for their congregation’s life, but poets with the imagination and gifting to cultivate environments within which people might again understand how their traditional narratives apply to them today.”[1]

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I have written before about the beauty and challenges of my home church. Our church of fifteen regulars was once a church plant of nearly 200 attendees, that has endured much loss and yet has emerged as a thoughtful, bonded, collaborative house church. We do not have a traditional pastor, nor an identified single leader, but rather a leadership team with shared responsibilities, that encourages all of our church members to serve and lead according to our gifting.

This week’s reading was… interesting timing. Three of the four members of our leadership team attended our regional denominational conference last week. The conference (my first) was enlightening. Among the forty or so attendees were leaders of churches that are thriving in a traditional context, of churches that are struggling (a church of eight members planning to sell its building), church planters, and members of “Field USA” – the denomination’s enterprise to support creative, organic, missional communities. The primary business of the conference was to re-organize the region into a smaller set of areas, based on either geography or affinity (as yet in progress) to increase the level of support away from a more hierarchical model to a more team oriented, organic model. Yet at the same time, the denomination itself operates in a  hierarchical, traditional western approach. A denomination and region in transition, filled with churches in transition.

Len Hjalmarson writes about that space of transition, referring to it as liminal; as the space in between. It is the space where transformation may occur, noting that God is interested in transformation. He describes this as “an intensely uncomfortable place” but also “a place of possibility.” [2] Amen to the discomfort, and amen to the possibility!

Last night our leadership team met and discussed not only the regional conference, but the future of our church. In January we agreed to enter into a time of rest and contemplation, to consider our future. We had agreed to return to this conversation in June. So here we are. Last night, as we considered our future, we talked about how we had perhaps learned well how to live with change and loss – despite the uncertainty – but did not know how to grow from here. We talked about how perhaps we may have become comfortable with our routines, though we often talk about how we desire more. And then we talked about Moses’ experience with the burning bush. Two significant questions arose:

1. Are we looking for the burning bush? Is it possible that we have walked right by the burning bush and not noticed because we were too caught up in our routine?
2. Are we willing to shed all of our comforts and conventions and cross the desert, as Moses did? Are we willing to shed tradition and adapt to our new world?

As our meeting ended, I was left with a sense of excitement and possibility. I felt the spark of something new – unknown yet deep and powerful. It felt like God.

And then today I read our assigned articles and thought to myself, “Wow! This is the exact assurance that our church needs.” Though Hjalmarson, in both articles, speaks to a need for a different type of leadership, and attending to our context, I found assurance in my perception that by intention or not, my church is living this reality. Hjalmarson writes, “Working with the unseen elements of growth requires intimate connection (community) and comfort with process and paradox.” [3] Our church has community. And we have a certain ambivalent comfort with process and paradox. I think the challenge is embracing the journey without necessarily knowing the exact destination. We need to learn to navigate and release our imagined sense of control. Many of our members would prefer a simple “how to” description of our next steps; the traditional western linear logic of a leads to b leads to c. Perhaps our great challenge will be to embrace in faith the journey upon which we have embarked and trust God’s leading.

I am encouraged and excited. I simply ask that as God leads you, you might pray with us and for us.

[1] Alan Roxburgh, The Sky is Falling (Eagle, ID: ACI Publications, 2005). p166. as quoted by Len Hjalmarson in “Leadership in the Chaordic Age” , 2013, Accessed April 7, 2015. http://nextreformation.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Leadership_in_Chaordic_Age.pdf
[2] Len Hjalmarson, “Broken Futures – Adaptive Challenge and the Church in Transition’, George Fox Evangelical Seminary, p.3.
[3] Len Hjalmarson, “Leadership in the Chaordic Age” , 2013, Accessed April 7, 2015. http://nextreformation.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Leadership_in_Chaordic_Age.pdf

About the Author

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Julie Dodge

Julie loves coffee and warm summer days. She is an Assistant Professor of Social Work at Concordia University, Portland, a consultant for non-profit organizations, and a leader at The Trinity Project.

6 responses to “Uncomfortable Possibility”

  1. Julie,

    Wow! Thanks for sharing about your church here. What an interesting situation you find yourselves in. I can see how these readings were so timely this week. I would share them with the others. Might make for more good conversations.

    As I continue studying Native cultures and leadership, I am amazed at how much wisdom these cultures have. And we called them savages? Amazing. Traditional Native leadership is all about humility, about caring for others, about listening to everyone, and about letting the Spirit move. How is that savage? I would call that behavior much more civilized than what I have seen and experienced in many churches and organizations through the years. Some of what I have seen has been pure evil! We need to listen and learn from tribal cultures. Perhaps then, we might just learn what it means to have civil leadership. God help us.

    • mm Julie Dodge says:

      Bill,

      I love how you continue to grow, learn, and be inspired by Native leadership. I appreciate the lessons you share, and the humility you both honor and model. I always appreciate your comments on my posts and I will miss this kind of interaction. It would be so lovely if we could post our dissertation sections and comment, but oh so much time that would take. Peace to you as you journey to Pine Ridge.

  2. mm Deve Persad says:

    Julie, thank you for sharing the update on your church. I’ve followed it and prayed for you all over the course of these two years and am very interested to see how the Lord continues to direct you. You said: “I think the challenge is embracing the journey without necessarily knowing the exact destination. We need to learn to navigate and release our imagined sense of control.” One of the challenges that I often give myself, our leadership, and others facing uncertainty is to find their story in God’s story. Like you have done with Moses – who never went looking for the burning bush, but upon finding it followed God without knowing how it would turn out. What were the parameters or guardrails for his choosing to leave his former way of life and follow God into areas of uncertainty? What was he willing to give up? How was he personally challenged to change? – I’ll continue to pray for you all. Thanks for sharing! I look forward to how the Lord directs you.

    • mm Julie Dodge says:

      Thank you for your prayers, Deve. The last time my church met, I taught about Moses in light of social justice. We talked about how this man of privilege “rescued” the oppressed people of the day by killing the oppressor. This did not endear him to them, but rather caused them to fear. Man’s vigilante justice is not God’s. So Moses fled. And then one day, a wife, child and 40 years later, he comes upon this burning bush. We talked about how Moses did not come home and call a prayer meeting. (As many of us might). He did not donate to a worthy relief agency or non profit that was helping the Jews. (As many of us might). No, his call and command was to go lead God’s oppressed people to freedom. Yes, he questioned, asked for help, but he obeyed. He was a different man 40 years later. Not so arrogant. I only pray that my church family will do as Moses: obey regardless of the fear, cost, habit… He could not have foreseen all that would happen. He didn’t know what miracles would come. He walked in faith, trusting that God was able. I hope to be more and more like that.

  3. mm John Woodward says:

    Julie, you should be excited! It sounds like you are living what I am so missing from my church. How refreshing to have a leadership (possibly most of your church?) take time to reflect and pray rather than run head strong into another great plan for success. Your church seems to be in a great place, where uncertainty requires humility, reliance on God, and endless possibilities. I will be most curious to hear what directions and roads your church will eventually travel (as I am sure you are just as curious). Thanks for giving me hope that there are still churches that are living on the edge, that are seeking God’s voice in our “driven” and highly organized world. The Lord be with you and your church!

    • mm Julie Dodge says:

      John,

      Your words encourage my heart. I am excited about the possibilities. Today, while riding up the Columbia Gorge to go hiking, I was chatting with God about so many different things. I started to just pray for others, but God said no, let’s talk. It was… Refreshing and encouraging. I hope and pray that all of my church family will be willing to submit ourselves before god, and hold on for a great adventure. I also lift you up for encouragement and hope in your church. I don’t fault the one hour, polished church. It’s hard to discern between meeting the needs of your congregation and following God. I think for us, because we have had so many losses, there is little to lose. Sometimes I think that makes it easier.

      Peace to you, a John.

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