What does it mean to lead in the in between time?

This week I have been blessed to be reading a book titled, “How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going” by Susan Beaumont.  The Subtitle is Leading in a Liminal Season.  The liminal season is that in between time of life. General Presbyter Daris Bultena asked me to read it as he said it was a good exposition of his leadership style and understanding of the world. 

As I read the book I picked up on how important it is for us to understand that we are all in a liminal season as the church and a society. The liminal time of life as Beaumont explains is a time that comes in between separation and reorientation.  As the church we have all experienced what she calls separation.  Our identity and status has been stripped from us and all that previously defined us is pretty much gone.  We no longer hold power and sway in the culture as we used to.  Reorientation as she defines it is a “reforming period in which a person, group or social order adopts a new identity.” Page 3. 

The Liminal period is where most of us find ourselves today. She defines the Iiminal period as:

A disorienting period of non-structure or anti-structure that opens new possibilities no longer based on old status or power hierarchies.  New identities are explored and new possibilities are considered. Pg. 3

Of course this isn’t how we normally see this time.  The liminal time is most often experienced in the most negative ways.  At best it is a wilderness time that we suffer through at its worse it is a time where we tear each other apart.  The liminal time is in fact a time that is challenging, confusing and upsetting.  Yet we experience liminal times regularly.  Things end all the time.  What we do with that in between time is what matters.

More times than not, our uneasiness with the in between time causes us to rush to action on the future or to try and recapture the past.  We have all seen this when a pastor leaves a congregation.  The first thought on everyone’s mind is, “when do we get a new pastor.”  This is a completely normal response to loss and the upheaval it brings. Every person and organization want stability and peace.  Still, if all we do is rush to a “solution” we miss an opportunity.    

It’s in that liminal time of opportunity that we find ourselves as the church in the world.  We know what we have been and we want to discover what we shall be.  Discovering that future self cannot be found unless we embrace a positive approach to liminal time.  She says this:

Liminal seasons are also exciting and innovative. The Promise of a new beginning unleashes creative energy, potential and passion.  All truly great innovations are incubated in liminality. God’s greatest work occurs in liminal space.” Pg. 2

One of her first positive points of liminal time gives me courage and hope.  She holds that during liminal periods Communitas can emerge.  “Communitas is a Latin noun referring to an unstructured community in which people are equal.” Pg. 15 As the old passes away new realities emerge.  In particular new relationships that start from a new place without perceived power structures and hierarchy.  As the church we are finding that the old ways are crumbling or have crumbled into ruins and we want to rebuild the temple once again.  If we embrace the liminal time we can instead allow a new communities to emerge and new ethos of interrelatedness to develop.

That of course sounds great…. A new vibrant community is something to get excited about, isn’t it?  Of course it is exciting but our fear of the unknown and the comfort of the past stands in our way.  What do we need to do to begin to embrace and grow in the in between time?  The answer is the same that has been given time and time again but we often forget.  Trusting that God is in the liminal space is the only way that this can become more than just a horrible time before death.  God has worked in so many liminal times; the wilderness after Egypt, the desert following Jesus’ Baptism and of course our time now in Christ.  Our Christian life is often explained as a time where we live in the already but not yet kingdom.  Jesus’ kingdom has been established through his life, death and resurrection but we are in between the full manifestation of that kingdom.  Our whole life and faith is based in liminal time.  If that is the case surely God is working in the midst of the church’s liminal experience.

What is your internal experience of the losses the church has experienced?

Are you ok being “in between” the past and the future?

We Walk By Fatih, Not By Sight

The Apostle Paul speaks of living by faith in 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10.  Here Paul seeks to set our minds on something more than earthly fear.  Prior to this he reminds us that we are fragile and like jars of clay and yet held in the potter’s hands.  At the end of chapter four and the beginning of chapter five isn’t looking to comfort people in the midst of fear. Rather, he seeks to embolden them with a sense of spiritual vision, purpose and protection.  “For we walk by faith, not by sight” is his call to confidence in the Lord.  Along with Paul, we know that living the life of faith is not a cakewalk.  To be bold ambassadors of Christ in the world means that we have to have faith in what God is doing, even when (or perhaps especially when) we have fear.

As you can imagine answering a new call is surrounded by fear and anxiety.  To leave a place of comfort and love to enter a new ministry takes courage but more importantly, faith.  The song “We Walk By Faith” is based on this on chapter 5:7.  I’m struck by verse three of this hymn:

3. Help then, O Lord, our unbelief,
and may our faith abound;
to call on you when you are near.
and seek where you are found:

It is important to trust that God is helping us in our unbelief and causing our faith to abound.  Anytime I have conducted Ordination or Installation Services I have always highlighted the phrase, “I will with God’s help.”  This dependence on God is what empowers us to step out in faith.  That’s what it means to call on God and to seek God.

Being one week into a new ministry is not a lot of time.  Much like newlyweds, everyone one is on their best behavior and the honeymoon is in full swing.  Yet one of my greatest vocational fears has been answered. A few weeks ago I made the following post on Facebook:

Today was the first time in 20 years that I woke up on a Sunday morning and wasn’t the pastor of a congregation. I…

Posted by Geoff McLean on Sunday, November 17, 2019

Over the course of this first week I was immersed in the life of The Tropical Florida Presbytery.  Our Pastors Pause, Leadership Council and Committee on Ministry meetings all helped to allay the fear of losing my identity as a Pastor.  For 20 years I have lived life as a congregational pastor and all that comes with.  How would this new role change that identity? If I have seen one thing over this first week it is that what pastors and congregations need first and foremost is a pastor.  By that I mean someone who is going to take time and foster relationships and trust.  “The Presbytery” in our system hasn’t always been about loving and trust filled relationships. When talking about the congregation the Book of Order says:

G-1.0102 The Fellowship of the Congregation

The polity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) presupposes the fellowship of women, men, and children united in covenant relationship with one another and with God through Jesus Christ. The organization rests on the fellowship and is not designed to work without trust and love.

This is my favorite passage from the Book of Order and what it says in regard to the congregation is true of the Presbytery.  Polity presupposes fellowship and covenant relationship.  Over this week I have seen how the commitment to fellowship and relationships is a real and present force in the life of Tropical Florida Presbytery.  I don’t need to fear “not being a Pastor” because I am in fact still a pastor.  The difference is that the flock I am serving is now comprised of Pastors and Congregations not individual families and one community.

Yes, I will need to adjust and discover new means of ministry and I have a lot to learn.  Yet I know that if I lean on my Pastor’s heart and walk by faith, God will equip and use me for vibrant ministry.  I still have fear and anxiety but I also am able to step out in courage because God is helping in my unbelief and causing faith to abound.

  • What has been a recent time of walking by faith in your life?

Reaching Spiritual Seekers – How do they connect?

As we have seen over the past two weeks, many of the assumptions that we make about those who are spiritually seeking are less than accurate.  Today, our journey into the world of spiritual seekers draws our attention to the way that they connect. For many church people, the most obvious way to connect to a church is through worship attendance.  We have built our framework of spiritual community on “entering his sanctuary with praise.” 

Today, our sense of community and belonging has shifted.  People have friends that they may have never met in person.  I know more than one gamer who holds the online friendships they have with higher regard than in person relationships.  For many, it is easy to dismiss this new dynamic as false or lesser. This is not only unfair but is also rude. Many years ago, people had pen pals and charities have used letters from children who receive support to build “relationships” with donors.  So why do we discount the connections people have in today’s world?

Social media and other online forums have become a part of the web of relationship we have.  I know that I have connected at a deeper level with distant friends and family through Facebook and other social media tools.   According to Barna, 83% of spiritual seekers ages 29-49 use social media everyday. We all know that there are both positive and negative aspects of social media.  Yet, isn’t that true for every other aspect of our lives? Also, an overwhelming percentage use the internet daily.  

It would be a mistake for us to not see how spiritual seekers connect and how they get their information.  The death of print media is a glaring example of the shift in how people connect. Riding the Metro, you don’t see faces buried in a newspaper, you see folks scrolling through their phone.  Of course that vision is often followed by a condescending remark of one ilk or another. When I was visiting my father he kept harping on the fact that I was on my phone too much. I reminded him that while I was on my phone reading an article, he had his nose in a book.  We were engaged in the same activity with different means. Do we do this as a church?  

Another aspect of the Barna study focused on what we now call “the third place.” According to Ray Oldenburg, who pioneered the study of third place, “Third places, then, are “anchors” of community life and facilitate and foster broader, more creative interaction.”  Our first place is our home where we have primary relationships. Our second place is our work where we spend the bulk of our time. In the past the church was a major third place in people’s lives. My guess would be that for many of you it still is. For spiritual seekers the third place has shifted from houses of worship to other public venues.  Restaurants/coffee houses, parks and movie theaters are the dominant third places for those in the study. In the past, the church may have even been the default third place. Today, we need to “compete” for third place status. We may not like that thought but we can’t simply keep doing what we have always done and think people will show up. The definition of third place sounds very familiar.  The church has always sought to be an anchor in the community and a place for creative interaction. So how then do we help spiritual seekers connect with that the church as their third place?  

We need to begin by asking ourselves what makes Christ Presbyterian Church our third place?  It is important that we speak to our friends and family about how we experience church as an anchor in our lives? Yet, we also need to be willing to meet people where they are.  We need to find new ways to move beyond our walls into other places that spiritual seekers value. We also need to recognize that people connect in different ways and connect with them through those means. 

Recently, we began to regularly stream our worship services on Facebook and posting them to our website.  This is not only a great way for regulars to stay connected with the congregation when they are not able to attend but is an outreach to spiritual seekers.  I have heard some say “it’s not the same.” That is very true. For most of us, watching a worship stream online would pale in comparison to being in the sanctuary. Yet, for some this can be a great point of entry.  How then can we embrace the opportunity to welcome people into our lives regardless of the means? 

Here are a few coaching questions for you to ponder:

  • Do you find yourself judging others use of electronic devices or social media?
  • How is Christ Presbyterian Church your third place?
  • What are some ways that you can share you experience of Christ Presbyterian Church with others?