Yesterday’s post was about being stuck. But there are ways to get out of that quicksand.
According to the Eagle Creek travel gear store, here are the five things you can do to free yourself from being held captive by quicksand:
- Make yourself as light as possible—toss your bag, jacket, and shoes.
- Try to take a few steps backwards.
- Keep your arms up and out of the quicksand.
- Try to reach for a branch or person’s hand to pull yourself out.
- Take deep breaths.
- Move slowly and deliberately.
Such an easy metaphor for the Church.
If you are a stuck congregation, getting unstuck sounds a lot like escaping from the clenches of quicksand.
- Travel lightly as a congregation. Are you bogged down by centuries of history? On the one hand that’s wonderful because it shows that your congregation has done something to reach this point. (In other words, courageous followers of Jesus have taken risks along the way to get to 2021.) Our history is a part of our DNA but it’s not wholly who we are. Our history can weigh us down to the point that we become a church museum, not an active community of faith. We can also be burdened by an historic building that can’t be updated without a preservation society becoming involved or by a former pastor whose perceived successes sabotage the ministry of anyone who has followed him. It’s okay to toss the Annual Fish Fry if everybody hates the Fish Fry although your church has been doing it for 65 years. Congratulations. Now move on.
- Try to take a few steps backwards. Backtrack and see how you got to where you are today. Did the stuckness begin when you chose a pastor who looked good on paper but was basically a Ken doll? (i.e. plastic with great clothes and good hair but without a trace of life?) Was it the decision to build a gym “so that young families would join” even though there was a local gym a mile away and not a single family has joined since 2014? How did you get here?
- Where are your arms and hands? Are they folded in your laps? Are people pointing fingers? Does everybody have their arms in the air with suggestions but they expect someone else to do the work? Congregations with an active membership (i.e. using their hands and arms for everything from distributing food to painting the neighbors’ houses to writing cards to the homebound) aren’t stuck.
- Reach for help. Your Presbytery – or whatever your middle governing body is called – exists to help your congregation thrive. There might be consultants or grants or partnerships to invigorate your ministry. Please don’t use the excuse that “The Presbytery” did something to upset you 30 years ago. Support is a phone call away.
- Breathe deeply. This is ultimately about God and where God is in your congregation’s life. If your church doesn’t spend time in spiritual discernment and deep prayer, with Bible studies (start with Acts) and hard conversations, no wonder you are stuck.
- Move slowly and deliberately. Don’t pull a Peter on Transfiguration Mountain wanting to jump into a construction project without paying attention to what God has to say. Don’t choose the first pastoral candidate who seems nice. See #5.
It has occurred to me that there was a time in every stuck congregation’s history when the leadership was energetic and more faithful than fearful and willing to take risks. That’s how your congregation was established. Just as we are now in the throes of a pandemic, racial divisions, and political battles, the founders of our congregations started churches during wars, economic depressions and medical outbreaks. They made sacrifices and they joined forces to serve in the name of Jesus.
We can do that too. That’s what unstuck churches want to be.