I feel like school just recessed for the summer. Do you remember the feeling? The world bursts with possibility, the scent of cut grass, warm days stretching into cool evenings, the anticipation of holidays and fireworks. All seems possible.
“Why?” you might ask.
God answered so many prayers in the month of May it feels like I have been given a new lease on life. On top of celebrating my daughter’s graduation from college, another prayer was answered that I had been praying for a long time. It involved the alignment of so many moving parts and agreement between so many different groups I wasn’t sure if it would ever come to pass, but now it has.
On May 26, our wider faith community, our presbytery, approved a noble plan for who we wish to become, the direction we intend to head together, and the strategies we will use to move forward. Although the title for this catalytic plan looks a little boring in print—“Revised Mission Plan for June 2016-May 2018”— it is a document that is brimming with wisdom and resources to help our congregations and presbytery live up to our missional potential.
Seven years ago we “flipped the presbytery from the meeting to the mission.” We realized that our fellow congregations were facing challenges that could not be solved by people working harder or applying techniques that we already knew.
The world had changed too quickly. Leaders felt like they were using the Yellow Pages in a Google Search world. We needed a new approach. Instead of working harder, we vowed to work smarter. We vowed to learn.
In something called the “Odyssey Vision for Mission Design,” our presbytery leaders challenged us to be a presbytery in a whole different way. The design called for creativity and innovation to become the norm and for decentralized missional partnerships to become the hallmark of our fellowship together. The pursuit of adaptive learning (changing of values, behaviors, and attitudes) rather than technical fixes (solutions that require current knowledge) was championed at every turn.
I was so smitten by this vision I said, “I want in” as soon as I learned of it. And, sure enough, God came calling in the form of a search committee inviting me to join the presbytery staff. I was basically hired to put wheels on the values and aspirations proclaimed in Odyssey, that is, to provide leadership for transforming those values and aspirations into practices and structures we could all cheer about.
Don’t get me wrong. Adaptive learning is no easy pursuit. It requires experimentation, new discoveries, and adjustments across the community. Every time you take a step forward, you find competing values nipping at your heals, even pulling you backward into old behaviors. What is it someone said about today’s failures? Are they not built on yesterday’s successes?
In his book Canoeing the Mountains, Tod Bolsinger writes about the struggle that explorers Lewis and Clark encountered while seeking a new waterway to the Pacific Ocean. Instead of finding a passable river to canoe, they came face to face with the Rocky Mountains. They didn’t need better canoeing skills—they had those in spades—they needed new navigational tools altogether, and they found them by listening to a young Native American woman named Sacagawea.
So why the fireworks and champagne? Because we’ve reached a moment in our life together where we are not only motivated to address the adaptive challenges before us, but we have collectively identified the tools we need to surmount them.
Through our Revised Mission Plan, we are putting aside our canoe paddles and taking out our carabiners and ropes. It won’t be long until we reach the summit and see the vast west spreading out before us, beckoning us “to joyfully participate in God’s redemptive work through Jesus Christ in the world.”
Admittedly we’re a long way from the “new normal” we hope to create together—to be so nimble at adapting to a changing world that we find ourselves with the right attitudes and tools for every situation—but we are headed in the right direction, and by naming our vision, strategies and objectives we’ve taken a critical step toward turning our communal vision into a reality.