Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Adapting to the Future While Using the Past

   I returned to school this week as I continue in my Doctor of Ministry program. The first class meeting started with a Bible Study that lasted thirty minutes. It was a very refreshing moment, considering the class is titled "Leading, Growing and Developing the 21st Century Church." The combination of ancient truths with new challenges sparked my thinking beyond our discussion that day.
   We were reading from the story of Jesus calling his first disciples in Mark 1:16-18: 
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, "Follow me and I will make you fish for people." And immediately they left their nets and followed him.
Modern fishermen on the
Sea of Galilee, 2007.
Could you imagine such a request? What were those first disciples thinking? They had no context for what this wandering Rabbi was asking. Fish for people? Any step away from the life they had known would be a leap of faith. Of course, we know our call is the same. Turning our lives back toward the direction of the One who bids us to follow happens by faith. We have no idea what the journey's next turn, or day, or chapter will hold for us.
   They had a tremendous amount to learn and new things to pick up along the way. That is true for anyone learning anything. But, they did have some learnings from their past that would inform what God wants in their future. First, they understood enough to know to leave their nets behind, for this new venture would not require that old equipment. Second, they would have a keen sense of the need to fish daily, and not settle on the catch from yesterday. A good fisherman went out every day for more fish. They had to because their lives, their families, and even their community, depended on it. How different is this last point from the modern church? Can we recognize that many of us have become complacent with the haul from trips of yesterdays gone by?
   Larger than any critique of today's church, though, I come away with the reminder that God is calling us to do a new thing while expecting that some of our old learnings will be used for his purposes. The buzz term for the UMC in the coming years will be Adaptive Leadership, taken from the work and writings of Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linksky, Harvard professors helping us differentiate between technical challenges and adaptive ones. They have much to teach us, indeed. Our church, from the denominational level down to every congregation, needs to see the shifts in society and the world with new eyes born of a new, adaptive vision. But, like the first disciples, there are some truths that we carry with us from the past. Truth is portable.
  The church that is able to inspire its people to bring what they have known and combine it with a willingness to learn what is now needed will find itself entering a narrow gate to begin a unique journey. Few will take it, but it leads to abundant life together.
   Grace and Peace, Scott

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