Twice a year for two years I have been making this trip to Guelph, Canada to work with sixteen churches and their pastors to facilitate congregational transformation. On the surface this looks like any other church leadership retreat. We talk about generating and sustaining creative tension, current reality of our churches and contexts, God’s preferred future, and discipleship. Family systems theory, mental models, and adaptive versus operational leadership are concepts we learn about, all in hopes of moving the church towards greater missional impact in the world. And we do it all in the conference room of a hotel that serves Starbucks coffee.
But this learning experience is different.
Our learning isn’t just about the church. As leaders we show up to church with a lot of baggage. We often lead out of our wounds and fears. To lead like Christ, we need to be healed. We cannot talk about congregational transformation without talking about personal transformation. For this reason, all the learning we did was in the process of learning to see ourselves more clearly.
Last night we celebrated the end of the first module. Yes, we have been learning together for two years and are only through the first module. We will continue to learn together for at least two more years – some of us for more. While it sounds like a long time, truth be told, we need more time than that. Who learns everything they need to learn about church in two years? Four years? A lifetime?
We celebrated our learning and we laughed. Boy did we laugh. Deep, resounding belly laughs as we made fun of ourselves. Like any group that has a meaningful, shared experience we have developed our own language. Phrases like “How you be,” “You do what you do when you do what you do,” “Getting present,” and “vibrating,” were used in ways that made us cry with laughter. I have been in very few rooms full of pastors that laugh that hard for that long. And it was good.
And we were thankful. After we had laughed until our sides hurt people began to share what they were thankful for. Pastor after pastor stood and said things like “This experience saved my life” and, “When I started this process I didn’t know if my marriage would be in existence today. It is and it has been transformed,” and, “I started this process full of cynicism, and in a shame free environment I was helped to see and deal with the anger that was underneath that cynicism. I would sum up our experience in one word – hope,” and, “I’ve recently been through the toughest time of my ministry life, and I’m not just surviving but I’m thriving. That would not have been possible without what I’ve learned in this process.”
This is give me hope.
It gives me hope that pastors can find a place where they can be open and honest and experience a place to be vulnerable. It gives me hope that learning can happen in a shame-free environment. Where it is okay to fall and make mistakes – because that’s what learning is. Who gets it right on their first try? It gives me hope that transformation is possible. For individuals. For churches. Because when pastors have this kind of transformative experience they will be better pastors.
The kind of transformation that’s been experienced within this group over the last two years has been incredible. And it is the transformation we want to have in our churches. How many people would want to see sixteen people qualitatively transformed after two years in their church? We all would! But in order for that to happen we need to create spaces where we can learn together. Not learn more information or learn more theology. We know enough theology. The church isn’t losing influence in the world because we don’t know enough theology. It’s because we don’t put the theology we know into practice. Putting the theology of Jesus into practice is risky. Being a people a faith means that we do things we cannot do on our own. That’s faith. Faith isn’t strategically planning our next building project or outreach event. Faith is giving our word to doing what we don’t yet know how to do. We, like Abraham, go to a land we know not of. In other words, we learn. But learning is risky. It requires looking bad and falling down and getting scraped knees.
My dream for the church is that we can be a place where it is okay to learn. Last night I saw a glimpse of what it could look like. Learning like this requires an incredible amount of courage. It isn’t easy. Sometimes we need to say it to others. Today, I saw sixteen pastors stand up and state publicly what they need courage for.
I can’t believe I get to be a witness to its continuing for the next two years.
If you are interested in learning more about this initiative follow this link.