It was the first-ever mission trip for this congregation and they were so excited! Twelve youth and three adult chaperones from the church I was pastoring in Wisconsin headed to Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, Mississippi in the oppressive heat of a Southern Summer many years ago. I was excited too. Some of these youth had never been outside of Wisconsin before, and I was eager for them to experience all the things I knew this journey could offer: a different culture, new foods, a deep dive into faith-motivated service, an encounter with people whose stories and histories would be in contrast to ours.
After a full day of work on some of the Mission’s housing projects in the area, we cleaned up and prepared to head out to experience more of the community. I had a million ideas about what we could do….head down to the beach to play in the ocean, go to one of the local restaurants to taste some jambalaya, visit with some of the staff and clients to hear more about the area. But when I took these ideas and more to the group, they soundly vetoed them all. What did they want to do? Go to the shopping mall.
The shopping mall? I was so frustrated and disappointed. With all the wonderful things the kids might have experienced on their first full day in a totally new place, they chose to do something they could have easily done at home. It seemed like a very poor choice to me.
It was only later that I realized why the group had chosen a shopping mall rather than all those other more interesting possibilities: when everything around us is overwhelmingly strange and new, sometimes we yearn for the comfort of what’s familiar.
I think about this sometimes when I’m visiting with our congregations and with clergy and lay leaders. For those of us in the Church, there is much that surrounds us these days that seems like a strange new place. What used to “work” for us, often no longer does. A lot of things are just harder than they used to be: getting and keeping new members, maintaining our buildings, serving our community in meaningful ways, responding to the increasingly complex needs of our members.
We want things to be the way they used to be. We long for the familiar and comfortable. We turn inward because it feels too risky to venture a step into uncharted territory and try new things. Yet doing what we’ve always done is not the answer; sometimes it’s part of the problem.
I invite you to consider these questions in your congregations and other places of ministry:
How is God calling us to take a risk and do a new thing in our ministry? What’s scary about that? What’s exciting about that?
Have some generative, honest conversation about these questions where you are and see what emerges. Then have the faith and courage to take a step forward into that ‘new thing’ God has placed before you. You might be surprised to find a whole lot of blessing along the way.
With gratitude for your ministries and all your courageous moments,
Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister