When I was sixteen years old and in receipt of my newly minted driver’s license, my mother taught me one of my most valuable lessons in life. She said to me, “You can go anywhere in life if you just follow directions.” I understood the point she was making. However, in that pre-GPS era, I quickly quipped, “What about when you’ve lost or misplaced your directions?” Her response was simplistic, “Then follow the signs.”
When I began making the twelve-hour drive from my hometown to college by myself, my grandmother would instruct me to place the bible on top of the dashboard as I drove. Not sure it had any actual impact on my driving. But the symbolism was clear — the bible should always be our guide.
This advice has served me well in life. Little did I know how applicable it would be to my vocational life. Following directions in ministry means using scripture as your primary navigational tool. Leading a congregation missionally to become disciples requires following scriptural directions. It is critical in transitioning a church through a season of growth and change. Any attempt to do it differently will only leave you detached and distant.
Of course, transitioning a congregation brings with it the challenge of conflict. I must admit that I under estimated its magnitude. What I’ve learned is that it’s not an avoidable experience. It’s a necessary part of congregational development. The question is, how do you navigate the terrain? The typical faith community answer is prayer and patience. The correct answer is — follow scriptural directions.
I found myself at this intersectional challenge early in ministry. We were a growing congregation with growing concerns. Parking problems, space issues, identifying more leaders, and hiring staff were all on the radar. What wasn’t on the radar was conflict. We were following the scriptural directions of Nehemiah on how to rebuild a crumbling community and revitalize a stagnant ministry. However, we were learning on the go how to handle the conflict that comes with it. What we discovered was that the right response was a dependency on scripture.
I must admit that I can’t remember the last time I used an actual printed map. We have saying in my family, “Trust Waze.” I never leave home without plugging my destination into my Waze app. I’m assured of avoiding major accidents or traffic jams. Many of us are dependent upon this navigational tool. What if, congregationally, we treated the bible like we do Waze? Maybe we would be further along? Maybe we could have avoided some of the jams we’ve experienced? Maybe we could have shortened our ministry travel time? I’m not sure. But one thing is certain, it’s impossible to guide a congregation through any challenge without a reliance upon scripture for directions.
There have been a few times when I’ve attempted to disregard Waze only to realize that I should have trusted its directions. Occasionally, we are all guilty of the same thing. We get to a particular point where the urge to overrule our guide seems too much to bear. Eventually, the result is always the same. Jams, challenges, and delay.
I can now confidently say that prioritizing scriptural directions is critical to navigating congregational life. Our responsibility as pulpiteers, faith practitioners and lay leaders is to carefully study the biblical route and navigate the journey. Will there be difficult intersections, roadside hazards, and unexpected detours? Absolutely! That’s part of the journey. But our confidence in God and scripture is what breathes in us patience and the necessity for prayer. It’s actually the challenges and biblical confrontation of them that develops our confidence. We learn to see things from God’s perspective, and grow as disciples.
There are other factors that we have to consider in our navigation. Our particular context is grounded in a traditional reverence for the church. We often focused more on the membership community than the biblical model of community. The consequence of this has been fear of change and tribal behavior. Our challenge to reverse this identity has been a spark plug to our growth. Countering this identity with a focus on scripture has helped us to handle transition and solidify our resolve to confront challenges from a biblical perspective.
Our transition has helped us to focus on our missional responsibilities. Without a commitment to scripture and biblical formation we risk building on an unstable foundation. Our transitional challenges were a gift. While the journey is a continual process, we’re learning to study and trust our biblical directions.
Contributor: Timothy Sloan
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TIMOTHY W. SLOAN is Senior Pastor of The Luke Church in Humble, Texas. He is an emerging voice in the African American church known for developing strategic faith based partnerships between national and community organizations. Sloan has earned degrees from Morehouse College (BA), Princeton Theological Seminary (MDiv) and Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School (DMin). He is the author of Stand: Learning to Lead through Conflict. The transparent story of how he led his church through transition from traditional to an emerging model congregation. He and his wife Sonya, an orthopedic surgeon, have three children: Sarah, Soren and Timothy John.