By Amy Butler
In case anyone forgot to tell you, life in church is filled with tension. I believe this with all my heart. In fact, I’ve always said that if you leave a worship service in which I’ve led and you don’t feel uncomfortable, I’ve failed.
This, I’ll admit, is not the best church growth strategy. I’ve always said that folks should be uncomfortable when they come to church, but the truth is that the people who feel tension don’t often come back. And I’m sorry about that — I wish it were different. But, in some strange way I think any among us who answers the call to ministerial vocation is called to create the friction.
Why would we saddle the institutional church with this burden? Truth be told, we work hard to avoid tension at all costs. But it’s true, isn’t it? We can’t move forward without the tension.
A member of my congregation recently came to see me and we agreed: tension is absolutely necessary in any congregation that wants to welcome the future. The truth of the matter is: any congregation that wants to be part of the future of the Church — whatever that will be — must be ready and willing to welcome whatever will come.
And that means tension.
There’s tension between what was and what will be. There’s tension between policies and vision. There’s tension between roles and responsibilities. But how do we move forward? We feel the tension, but we want the future. What to do?
Here’s a strategy for making it through the tension, some steps toward a future we all want, but for which we will have to endure significant … tension. To do that, there have to be checks and balances, as my congregation member pointed out. Here are some thoughts:
First, there has to be a commitment to hiring good people, and to helping good volunteers step into meaningful service. Please, friends, empower your senior clergy to hire an excellent team; these professionals will make or break your efforts. Then, furthermore, help qualified and competent lay people step into leadership roles. They will take you to the future! Hire the professionals, then let the laity step in, and empower them to lead.
Second, in a system welcoming the future, there has to be training. TRAINING! In any way that we can summon education around roles and responsibilities, that education is key. We have to communally understand why we are here and what responsibilities our roles require. When we have that, we can move forward with confidence.
Third, if we’re transitioning, we have to work to keep the vision alive. Tell each other why you’re here. Remind one another of the gifts of the community. Reiterate the substance of your life together — again and again. Keep the vision alive.
Fourth, and last: learn to trust each other. When a new leader comes in, when change begins to happen, we want to welcome that change. After all, we’ve been waiting and working for such a turn of events. But when the change comes, we often think: “It almost feels like we haven’t participated in such a change!” Trust your leaders. Trust each other. We will make it through this change.
What steps are you taking to move forward? Whatever they are, they must involve tension.
Will we welcome the tension? Can we handle it?
Let’s see. I hope we will, because the future of the church depends on just that.