It’s never easy to admit you don’t have the answers. In fact, it may be harder than ever, since we’re so accustomed to having answers at our fingertips. Just Google it, right?
But more and more I’m witnessing the staff and lay leaders of our three – soon to be one – conferences acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers. And let me just say that leaves all of us feeling off-balance and insecure.
Some of the questions are ones that we know will get answers at some point in the not-too-distant future. What will we call the new conference? Will there be one central office? Where? We don’t have the answers to those questions yet, but we know we will, sooner rather than later.
Some of the questions loom much, much larger. How will this conference effectively carry out its ministry? How can we, as a newly formed conference, make more disciples? How can we more visibly and tangibly make God’s love and justice real to the people of southern New England?
How can the church evolve and adapt to these changed times in which we are living? How can we be the church that Jesus wants us to be?
Conference staff and lay leaders don’t have the answers to these questions now. But they are certainly searching for them. Consider:
Board and staff members of the three conferences have been reading Canoeing the Mountains, which talks about how Lewis and Clark had to shift their mission when they hiked into the Rockies with canoes, only to discover there was no river to bring them to the west coast. The book uses that as a metaphor for the shift that churches are facing;
Debbie Gline Allen, the Massachusetts Conference Christian Education Consultant, is advising churches that its okay to let go of a Sunday School model that isn’t working, and to embrace intergenerational, relational ministries instead (read her blog);
The Connecticut Conference staff is planning to try an experiment in which conference staff can partner with local church leaders to learn with them how to do ministry in new ways;
Members of the three conference staffs, during a recent gathering in which they were imagining what the new conference staff might look like, tossed around the idea of an R&D (Research and Development) department.
It has been fascinating to be part of conversations where leaders are willing to embrace the fact that they don’t have all the answers, that no one seems to, and that we’ll have to try to figure this out together, as we go.
As Tod Bolsinger says in Canoeing the Mountains, quoting Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky: “adaptive leadership is not about finding the best-known or most-available fix to a problem, but instead adapting to the changing environment or circumstances so that new possibilities arise for accurately seeing, understanding and facing challenges with new actions.”
“This kind of leadership is complex and fraught with loss, fears and anxiety, causing us to feel off-balance and insecure,” he writes. “But it is the essence of leadership in a changing world.” 1
So here we are, without easy answers, feeling off-balance, but determined to move ahead.
It would be SO much easier if we could just ask Siri.
1 Tod Bolsinger, Canoeing the Mountains, pp 40-41.
Tiffany Vail is the Associate Conference Minister of Communication for the CT, MA, and RI Conferences, UCC.
Many Voices, One Mission is a regular series highlighting the ministries of the
CT, MA, and RI Conference of the United Church of Christ.
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