For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfil to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
On the last full day we spent time talking about the specific dynamics that have to be navigated in the midst of the inevitable conflict. Often the church community is on the threshold of something new. Some big change has happened to them, and they need to start making some choices. And that’s where there’s the rub. In this threshold space people have to be honest about who they are and what they want in church – and then, make some decisions about it. Sometimes those responses will be really varied. And dealing with those differences can make or break this process. Some will leave because the church isn’t what they think it should be right now. Others who were dissatisfied with the what was happening before the change may come back and start anew. But the point is that emotions are running high, and people have negotiate those feelings. But. Conflict is a good thing. It took me a long time to realize it personally. But it is essential for growth. And it’s reallllllyyyyy essential for a church to be healthy and to become healthy.
This is where discernment is obviously huge. Discernment isn’t only for the pastors, but for the people, too. But, the pastor has a complicated job in not only understanding the state of mind of a congregation, but also providing the right questions, the right space, and the right vision of the end-game. It’s a lot to negotiate all at once, and I can only imagine how emotionally taxing it might be for all.
But, threshold is like Advent, and I’m mindful of that as we approach the season of waiting and anticipation. We do not wait passively or hopelessly, and the candles we light each week give us a glimpse of the other side. We know the end of the Advent story, and we know that it isn’t an end at all but a beginnning.