Thirty years is a long time to do anything. But to stay in the same church community in ministry for three decades is a miracle.

It is a mystery to me what has made it possible for us in the community in which I serve to stick it out together in these uncertain and tumultuous times for the past thirty years. But, there are a few things I think may have helped:

1. keeping our focus in the right place

The church is a strange organization. Before anything else, churches exist to point beyond themselves to the invisible dimension of life we call God. The church’s fundamental goal is to support people in recognizing that the meaning and purpose of life are not ultimately established in this visible tangible material realm. Our hearts long for something deeper and more profound than can ever be achieved on this horizontal plane of personality and circumstance. Churches exist to support heart opening to the deeper dimension that is the realm of meaning and true life.

I have been privileged to minister for all these years among a group of people who understand that preserving the life of the church is not the first priority of the church. Our primary focus has always been growing together in our ability to live our lives in response to the deep inner moving of God’s Spirit.

What we pay attention to we energize. We grow what we focus on. When we focus on the hidden mystery of God’s presence at work in all of life, our awareness of that reality grows. Thus the possibilities of our life together are inexhaustible and new every day.

22The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
   his mercies never come to an end;
23they are new every morning;
   great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22,23)

We become a sign of steadiness and faithfulness, because the power of love in whom we trust is steadfast and faithful. Ironically, it is this  steadiness that prepares the soil for the surprising, creative ever-fresh work of God’s Spirit in our midst.

2. letting go of non-essentials

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of love at work in peoples’ hearts and in the world. Church exists to help us open to the power of love, healing and reconciliation, and to live more fully as instruments of light in the world around us. Everything else is secondary. Anything that is in any way a barrier or hindrance to this expansive vision of love, we choose to abandon (cf. John 2:13-17).

When we major in minors we put an intolerable strain on our community. When we can let go of non-essentials, we are able to relax about our own agendas and understand that there is a wisdom in listening and surrender that can never be received when I am determined to cling to my own little version of what is most important, or what must happen.

When we push, strain and demand, we make it more difficult for people to find their way and open their hearts to the gentle moving of God’s Spirit. When we sit lightly to those things that are not essential to our life together, we open space for people to be more truly and authentically human and to find ways forward in community that are respectful and sustainable.

3. flexibility

There are few ditches worth dying in. There is a lot that it is possible to let go of. I do not need to get my way very often. When I choose not enter the battle, I open to the unexpected wisdom that may come from those with whom I disagree.

If there is one thing that destroys human community more than anything else, it is rigidity. Life is a constant process of change and fluctuation. Healthy living requires an ability to adapt to ever-changing realities. People are always unfolding. On the material timebound plane, nothing ever stays the same. This can be unsettling and disturbing, especially when we lose touch with the steady core of love and goodness that is the heart of the church’s witness.

When I feel threatened, it is tempting to hunker down and demand that we maintain those things and ways of being that make me feel comfortable. When we resist change, we create brittle human relationships that are doomed to splinter.

We have stayed together for thirty years in part because we have sought to live in that freedom and openness that is our true and deepest nature.