A Teachable Spirit

Author: Chris Braudaway-Bauman

“ . . . a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that truly is life.” I Timothy 6:19

As we prepare to emerge from the pandemic and come back together, church leadership has begun to have conversations about embarking on a “strategic planning process” for our congregation. As a planful person by nature, I love the sense of clarity and accomplishment that comes with thinking “strategically.” I appreciate the conversations it invites: The Why, which is about purpose. The What, which focuses on finding priorities. And the How, where wings get put on aspirations and flesh on bare-boned intentions. I enjoy attending to thoughtful process. Even more, I like to get things done.

But I also recognize that the way forward is not clear no matter which way we turn. Our concerns for the world don’t have easy or even discernable answers. We are living in an in between time, a liminal space, which is surely related to the pandemic, but is also much larger than that. Even as we begin to emerge from COVID-19, there remains an unsettling sense that some things are dying away while others are being born. Some of the signs for our future are hopeful. But it’s hard to know what real difference they will make and what will last.

Into this turmoil, some sage advice landed in my email inbox a few days ago from Susan Beaumont, a church consultant I trust and the author of a book with one of the best titles ever, How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going. It seems Susan has been eavesdropping on some of our conversations, or more likely, that congregations everywhere are having the same conversation. Into all of our desires to emerge with a unified and invigorated vision and mission, Susan wants to point us in another direction. “Reopening our buildings and regathering our congregation physically will not resolve our disorientation. . . . You cannot resolve liminality by planning your way through it. You must learn your way through it.”

We would do well, she says, to focus less on planning and more on creating cycles for discerning the right questions, developing containers for reflection, and making it possible to experiment, adjust, innovate, and iterate. Act by all means, but in a way that is fluid and focused on learning. Try new things. See what works. Notice where the Spirit is speaking and attend to that. Follow where she is calling. Sustain and strengthen what works and then do what’s next. Keep moving.

All of which, I believe, draws on our strengths as a congregation – our ability to adapt, our capacity to be nimble, and the love and trust with which we hold each other. Look at how our well of compassion and concern for social justice, as deep as ever, has coalesced with energy and focus into new ministries growing in our midst focused on climate change, racial justice, and gun violence. When the pandemic closed our building, we were able to pivot to find new ways of gathering together. We learned quickly how to bring the church to each other, online and outdoors, on YouTube and Zoom, in backyards and front porches.

In this next season of our life together as we seek to discern, in new ways perhaps, the direction and callings of the Spirit, may God give us a teachable spirit, making us eager and open to learning, full of curiosity and wonder, humble and hungry at the same time. May God give us hearts of courage, ready to take some risks for our faith and ministry, to try some bold new thing, to allow ourselves to be changed by it, and as Scripture invites us, to reach for “the life that really is life.”

Prayer: Eternal God, you call us to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us. Amen. (attributed to Martin Luther)


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