How is this for an arresting question?
How do you stay attentive to the Spirit when you are immersed in radical, discontinuous change all your life?
It comes from Roxburgh’s The Sky is Falling and is a question which was asked of Roxburgh by two leaders in their thirties.
The point these leaders were trying to make is that when sporadic, irregular change is normal experience, it becomes hard to discern which changes to pay attention to. Indeed, these leaders suggested that ‘the tendency is to take none of it seriously…to see everything as novelty’.
It is a sentiment which resonates with me a lot. We are a ‘generation which has never known anything but change in [our] lives’, who ‘are weary of fighting internal battles about meaning, control, and power’. And I know that my default reaction, especially when I am tired from months of trying to lead a church without time off, is to want to give up trying to work out what it means to be a leader in this context of constant yet unpredictable change. I get tired of fighting a battle where it seems like the lie of the land is constantly changing, as if the only thing I can be sure of is that what worked yesterday will not work tomorrow and – to be honest – will probably only work today as a bit of a fudge! (I am joking when I say that my ministry philosophy is ‘make it up as you go along’, but not much.)
So, given such a background of change and the weariness which it engenders in so many leaders, it can start to be hard to discern which changes might be a sign of the Spirit’s stirring. I shouldn’t admit it but there are days when I think I’d quite like to lead a church where everything happens the way the church growth books say it does, a church where nothing ever changes apart from an upwards trend in attendance, buildings and cash. I suppose I feel like I might actually have some solid ground, time and space, then on which to stand as I listen for God!
But, because that is not our experience, because instead we live in a reality which seems to be constantly shifting, there is never solid ground on which to stand.
Apart from in one place, that is.
And that is why I find this initial question so powerful. You see, it asks me to learn to find rest and stillness in the One who is able to orchestrate all the changes, to trust in the One who walks on the waves despite the constant shifting of the water beneath him. It reminds me that the real issue is not how fast the rate of change, how radical or how disorientating. The question is not about how much of the previous generation’s church growth theory or church management technique I can borrow and adapt for this generation. It’s not even about running fast enough to keep up with the change, to stay one step ahead of it in the battle to disciple this generation – that way lies burnout!
Instead, it’s about one thing. Rooting myself in Christ and prioritising – above ALL else! – a habit of attentiveness in order to be led by the Spirit.
Next time I forget that (current best estimate is tomorrow!), can someone remind me please?!