A meditation on discernment
BY DONNA CLAYCOMB SOKOL
Whether we are willing to admit it or not, our church is inching closer and closer to the wilderness. Gone are the Sundays when we can merely open our doors and expect people to come inside. Long passed is the assurance that every real estate agent will recommend a good neighborhood church with a quality children's ministry to accompany the ideal house they are selling. In fact, gone is the children's ministry in many churches.
The average age of a United Methodist is 55 years old while the average age of a United Methodist ordained elder is 51 years old. Only half of our churches made a new disciple in the last year. Our denomination has been losing members for forty years. The statistics are bleak. At our current rate of decline, there will be no United Methodist Church in 40 years which means that anyone who is being ordained this year at 25 years old will see our church retire with them if there is even a church left for them to serve when they reach the age of 65.
This time is no time for ordinary leadership. This time is no time for mediocrity that will masquerade as faithfulness. This time calls for exceptional, passionate, creative, think outside the box leadership.
The book of Exodus details the wanderings of a people who are on the move. God is clearly doing a new thing. God's promises are new each morning. The promises appear too good to be true: parting the sea, turning bitter water into sweet water, causing water to come forth from a rock, and raining bread from heaven in the morning. God is promising a miracle to take place, and these miracles happen as long as Moses is faithful – as long as Moses does exactly what God tells him to do.
Moses follows God's instructions and becomes quite unpopular in the process. The Israelites complain at each twist in the road even though each twist brings them one step closer to the Promised Land. Moses could have easily sat done and complained along with the people.
"We're all going to die."
"But, God!!!! We've always done it this way."
"I don't care what kind of water you are offering me. I prefer the water of decline instead of the water of renewal."
It's much easier to go with the flow than it is to lead through change. It's not nearly as stressful to go along with the cries of complaining people as it is to listen and obey God. Thankfully, Moses did not give up. He continued to be faithful, leading effective change.
Who has the qualities of Moses amongst us? Who has the capacity to lead change in our denomination? Who has the ability to lead us into renewal? Who can cast a vision that is accompanied with tangible morsels of wisdom that when followed lead to transformation? Who has ears that can hear the complaints of the people while at the same time hearing the voice of God even more clearly and abundantly?
Gracious God, these are trying times for the church. We are wandering through a wilderness that is new to some of us while it is the only climate others of us know. We have no idea what tomorrow holds. We are uncertain of where we are going. Please help us to love you more than we love our church. Please help us to realize that to not change is to change since everything around us is changing. Please lead us into the place where we embody your kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Raise up a leader amongst us. Raise up one with courage and passion and faithfulness. We're waiting God. Amen.