“What’s the most interesting and the most challenging thing you’ve discovered so far?” The answer surprised me: “The most interesting thing is that it’s vague,” he replied. “It’s also the most challenging.” I must admit, I wasn’t expecting that answer. I don’t think I’ve ever heard “vague” and “interesting” in the same sentence before.
This exchange took place when I stopped in at a meeting of the congregational Guiding Teams a short while ago. These are teams of 3 to 5 people from congregations participating in our renewal process as facilitated by TMN’s Alan Roxburgh. We have six Guiding Teams participating in this first phase and they come every 3 to 4 from all across our synod for face-to-face meetings. I try to stop by and see what they’re up to – or more accurately – to see what God is up to.
I want to share with you some of the foundational attitudes that are emerging among the Guiding Team participants.
- The first Attitude I heard from them was “Being Open.” This means being open to God’s leading. It’s recognizing that this is God’s process, not ours. Being open means saying, “Here I am.” It’s saying, “Help me see what you’re up to in this world, God.” Being open also means asking some tough questions. One participant suggested that we need to ask ourselves the question, “What boundaries or barriers have we erected in our churches?” She noted that this renewal process helps us to think beyond that.
- The second Attitude is “Looking.” This is both an attitude and a discipline. “Looking” means constantly asking “What else? What’s next? What’s around the corner? Where is God in every encounter? What is God up to?”
- The third Attitude is “Expecting.” Congregational Guiding Team members are beginning to expect something. They’re expecting God to be at work in them and in their neighbourhoods. They’re expecting that there will be a God-moment when stopping by the corner store. They’re expecting that a conversation with a neighbour will be a holy conversation, even when discussing the mundane. They’re expecting that they can learn much from each individual. It’s a “holy expectation” that they’re practicing.
- And finally, they have an attitude of being prepared for uncertainty. That’s why one Guiding Team member used the word “vague” to describe both the most interesting thing and the most challenging thing. It was the most interesting thing because no one really knows where all of this will lead. No one knows what paths God might lead us down. It’s exciting, said one person, because it means we need to keep listening, praying, discerning and asking.
But it’s also a major challenge because we like to be in control. We like having things figured out. We like knowing what is next.
One participant said it this way, and I paraphrase: “We want to be in control. But what this process is teaching us is that we need to truly be listening – listening to what God is saying through you and through your neighbourhood.” That’s tough to do. It’s hard to set aside the question of “What needs can we meet?” and to ask instead, “What is it that God is inviting us to?”
Being open. Looking. Giving up control. Expecting God to show up. It’s all part of training us to be an Advent people all year long.