by Rev. Dan Morley, North District Superintendent
I have been enjoying getting out and cycling. It feels good early in the day before the wind and the heat build. But those are the known and expected challenges. What is tough and sometimes overwhelming are the unexpected or unforeseen challenges.
On one of my recent rides, I decided to begin the first leg with an uphill climb. I could feel the challenge in the muscles of my legs and in my lungs laboring to get a breath. I then moved off the pavement and onto an off-road trail with twists, turns, bumps, and sinking sand. My old bike had its workout and so did my aging body. I began to hear squeaks and moans from the joints . . . of that ole bike.
On the home-stretch, it was downhill. It felt good with the wind in my face and the ease on the pedals. However, I began to feel an increase in a wobble and creek. Before me was the last steep hill down, crossing a major street, and then into my neighborhood and to home. But there was cross-traffic and I needed to brake hard before crossing that last street; that is when it became apparent that the wobble and creek were the handlebars coming loose.
It is a sinking and frightful feeling to have no steering or brakes all at the same time.
Perhaps you have experienced life being like that — or even church being like that. The feeling of not being able to control the direction even when heading right into cross-traffic. Some things I have learned to do in such a situation, and what is important for our church to do in such times, is…
- It is essential to keep calm. Anxiety, frenzy, and panic usually result in poor decision and even calamity. As I approached the busy street with no steering or brakes, I instinctively did a breath prayer and found a new balance instead of crashing to the pavement or into the cars ahead. In what was an instant, I was able to think and respond. Keeping a calm spirit when in a time of stress at a church council meeting will help you, and others on the team, to trust that all will be well and we can manage the trouble, especially together.
- The next is to discover a new way to accomplish what the old, familiar way can no longer do. Panic blocks the creative imagination and the clear thinking which is needed in such a time. My handlebars steering and braking the bike no longer functioned as intended. In that moment of a breath prayer, I found a new balance on the bike — to keep upright, but also to steer it. I could no longer steer with the handlebars, but I could steer by shifting my balance on the bike by leaning to the left; the front wheel followed, and I and bike curved to the side and up onto a grassy slope with a safe stop. In a heated moment of a council meeting, perhaps a new balance is needed and at the very least a stopping place to gently land to pray, find a new breath, and a next idea. If the usual process is not working, but only heightening tensions, then stop everything and pray and have a team conversation about new possibilities.
- Accept the result of the new action with appreciation. Acknowledge that mistakes will be made, and perfection is a process which begins with best attempts which are modified over time. Though I came down on that grassy slope, I skinned my knee and twisted my back a bit. For a few days I had reminders that I had not given attention to the squeaks and wobbles of the bike and there were consequences. But I was also reminded that I was able to navigate a tough situation and come out OK. In the church, telling the stories about meeting and addressing challenges reminds the body that we are always needing to be learning and adapting with great grace for all.
- Fix what is broken or no longer working. Identify the broken places and make a plan to correct them. This is not about personal blame, but simple acknowledgement of what is no longer working as it once did. It used to serve its purpose, but now something new is needed. My daughter rode my bike just a few weeks before it came apart under me. She said — “that bike is falling apart. No one should ride it.” I responded that she shouldn’t say such things about my dear old bike which has served me well for many years. You just have to learn how to work with its challenges. However, she was right — I needed to fix what was broken. Sometimes it is someone else who must tell the truth I need to hear. So church, what is broken and how do we fix it? When we need to fix what is broken, I encourage and challenge us to look at the systems and processes with exacting eyes, but always one another with great grace. Blame and accusation pointed to a co-disciple in Christ, leads to further harm and trouble. Listen for the creeks and notice the wobbles in process and system and focus there.
We always have ample opportunity to improve our practices when confronted with challenges and dangers. May we have the wisdom and courage to love like Jesus, act for justice, as we are united in hope.
Finding a New Balance through Christ,