by Rev. Susan Brims, East District Missional Strategist & Superintendent
Mind the gap is a phrase I have heard many people repeat after they returned from a trip to London. Mind the gap is a call to pay attention when you are getting on or off a subway train to be cautious of the space between the subway train and the platform. The gap is a risky place.
Several years ago I hired a coach named Eric Martin. He is a kind and gentle soul with a deep belief that the world can be a better place if people use their values to shape their actions. Eric helped me to take new steps of faith when the way forward seemed uncertain, or too difficult to figure out. Eric is a national leader in teaching adaptive leadership skills to people who want to make a difference in the world. With adaptive leadership you learn to look through the spaces to discover (my words) where the spirit of God is leading when it feels like God is silent.
Four years ago, rather than hosting a large district training, I went to smaller clusters of churches and we discussed the basics of adaptive leadership. Little did any of us know that a pandemic was heading our way that would challenge us to adapt so much of what we felt was “normal” church life. Today we all understand that adapting to a changing environment is a crucial skill-set if we are to share God’s healing presence with a hurting world.
As I meet with congregations during this church conference season, many realize that there will be no such thing as returning to normal. We have been challenged to be the church in a very different way. We may experience more familiar patterns of life, but the pandemic has taught us that we have a great opportunity to adapt and become more of what we have always dreamed about as the people of God. For the next few newsletters, I will refresh our memories about the basics of adaptive leadership, with the hope and prayer something along the way will help us take the steps we want to take toward resilience and fruitfulness.
The first lesson has to do with “minding the gap.”
The gap is the distance between our current reality and our courageous aspirations. A simplified example would be the fact that there is a gap between what I currently weigh and what I really want to weigh. Understanding what fills the gap will go a long way to helping me take new steps toward achieving my goal. Now consider that the goal is far more than one’s weight. Perhaps you want the church to better reflect the cultural diversity of the community in which you are located. Or maybe you want to find a way to turn a decline in membership around. These are not easy fixes and to be honest, with the changes in our world to take the step from current reality to aspiration means experiencing a gap that is far more different than any of us truly expect.
For this first lesson, try this exercise. (Be assured – through the next several newsletters we will build on this first step. Don’t give up hope yet.)
- Identify the issue you want to address.
(In reality, the issue could be anything from wanting to address a culture of conflict to making some type of progress toward your primary mission or goal. The key is to write the current reality in one box and your aspirational goal in the second box.)
1) Take a few minutes and write about why the gap between your current reality and your aspiration matters to you. Is there a Bible verse that inspires you? What core values come into play? This part of the exercise has a way of linking the heart and the head in a way that empowers you when the going gets tough.
Now this is where I will leave the teaching for this week. You will need to read future newsletters to take the second step in this journey of adaptive leadership in a changing and uncertain time. Our next lesson we will examine what it means to look at the gap from the balcony. Doing this may reveal things we did not anticipate.
During these days when we are all working to make sense of what our new reality is, I find this passage meaningful:
2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (NRSV)
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;
Those words remind me that even though the way ahead may be challenging, with the help of the God who loves us, there is possible to find a way through. Positive change does happen, if we do not give up.
I look forward to continuing the conversation with you.
Your sister on the journey,