Not too long ago my girlfriend and I were making our way to the store and I posed this question: “If you could pick three people from our graduating class to work in a church you attended, who would you pick, and what positions would they fill?”  Never turning down a hypothetical question, she pondered briefly and then quickly rattled off the three names and their positions…then quickly threw in an, “Ooh, wait!  __________ would be great in that position!  And…can I have four choices?”

We went back and forth, thinking of positions in the church and who would be good for them and how we would definitely want this person or that person.  We couldn’t be confined to the parameters of my question and we both quickly came to the consensus that we’d need a very large budget for our staffing because we’d like to have so many of our classmates working in churches we’d attend.

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of my time admiring my classmates and watching them gives me hope for the future, while simultaneously making me jealous of those lucky congregations who get to receive these new chaplains and pastors.  If my classmates are any indication of the future of the Church, I’d say it’s in good hands.

The Church has been in decline in the United States for a while and there’s been a cry for new leadership with fresh ideas to rescue the sinking ship.  I often wonder why these cries continue to come, year after year, because there has been a continual output of new leadership and fresh ideas from seminaries and divinity schools for decades.  I can’t help but wonder who’s at fault.  Have these new and creative voices been stifled?  Have these ideas been put aside for safety and security?  Has the Church rejected change simply for security despite declining numbers?  Will the Church ever come to a realization that there needs to be risk…there needs to be faith…there needs to be failure for growth and success?

As I’ve been watching and listening to my classmates talk about their hopes for the Church and their future communities, I pray to God that they don’t put it all aside for their own security.  I pray that these future chaplains and pastors don’t ‘fall into line’ simply to maintain their jobs.  And I desperately pray that the churches that call these women and men don’t stifle their creativity, their new ideas, or their plans for revitalization.

My task to the Church is this: be willing to take risks with your new leaders.  Call to your leadership positions people with big ideas, challenging ideas, wild-out-of-the-norm ideas.  Call to your leadership positions people who don’t fit the mold, people who you’ve overlooked for so long, people you know will challenge you.  And be willing to step into the discomfort of the unknown with your pastors and chaplains – their ideas may be exactly what your community needs in this moment!

My task to those moving into church and chaplaincy is this: be willing to take risks.  Don’t deny who you are for a paycheck.  Don’t let your ideas, your creativity, your dreams for the Church be stifled by old ideas and ancient ways.  Be ready to say ‘yes’ to things you’d never dreamed of and be willing to fail in big ways.  Meet with other pastors and dream, plot, and scheme together.  Step out of the well-trod pathways and look for other paths, easier – or harder – paths than the one you’re on.  And be willing to quit if you need to…be willing to recognize when you’ve hit a wall and move on.

The future can be bright for the Church if the Church is willing.  May God grant us all an abundance of hope and vision for the future, and may we all have an excess of grace and encouragement for one another.  The change is here…are we willing to take it?

much love. sheth.

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