The strategies for staying together that I believe have helped the people in the church I serve to continue together in ministry with the same person in leadership for so long, are not so much “strategies” as they are attitudes.

These attitudes seek to live in tune with the realities of life as they are, rather than demanding life conform to my wishes, demands and expectations.

10. change, change, change

Change is unavoidable in every healthy relationship. When we resist change, we inhibit growth and destroy life.

It is tempting to think church should be the one place where everything stays the same. It is tempting to seek in church a bulwark against the constant flux, uncertainty, and insecurity that characterize so much of life on this horizontal time-bound material plane. Surely, there should be one place where we can settle down confident we will not be upset by any changes.

The problem with bulwarks is that they are rigid and unbending. They lack the capacity to accommodate the inevitable changes that unfold all around them. When we become bulwark eventually we break.

The church needs to be less a bulwark and more a mighty oak, deeply rooted in the ground but able to adapt to the changing seasons and to some degree  to bend when storm winds blow.

The other problem with bulwarks is that they exclude and isolate. A bulwark is a barrier; it forges a fortress mentality that finds identity in keeping certain people out. Because we share a common commitment to a higher reality than our commonality, church is the one community on earth that has the capacity to embrace diversity. Given the increasingly diverse context in which churches operate today, we must open to the incredible disparity of peoples’ lives. We must find ways, while remaining rooted in our traditions, to adapt to the ever-changing realities of the world in which we live.

11. understanding

The truth is, I understand almost nothing.

Four of the most sustaining words for human community are: “I may be wrong.”

My vision is partial. I need you in order to see more clearly. Wisdom is not an individual nor a private gift; it is a communal skill developed and honed in the crucible of relationship. I do not want to be part of any community in which everyone has to agree with me on everything. We need to be in relationship with people who see the world differently.

I need to live beside different opinions in order to come to a deeper understanding of life.

12. gift

You are a gift in my life. For thirty years, I have shared in ministry in one place, for much of this time with many of the same people. It has all been a gift. Some gifts are harder to take than others; some come all shiny and wrapped in lovely paper, others come with sharp edges and broken pieces. But it is all gift, the hard bits as much as the pleasant parts.

The shadow side of human relationships exists to help us become more sensitive to the light. You don’t get the light without the dark. As my heart opens to the struggle and the friction that are an inevitable part of being in human relationship, I find my ability to love and to perceive the light begins to expand and deepen.

13. light

At the core of Christian faith is the conviction that, in the end, light is stronger than dark. Love conquers hatred; life transcends death.

Communities that stay together bear witness, by their faithful steadiness, to the power of love and the enduring strength of goodness, light, and truth that in Christian tradition we see embodied in Jesus.

For thirty years, those of us who have remained together in ministry have understood that God calls us first to be instruments of love, healing, and reconciliation. We have been able to stay together because we believe that, more important than being right or getting all our theological ducks in a row, or always being comfortable, is the witness to God’s faithfulness and love that our relationships embody in the midst of a broken and hurting world.

There is no more noble call than manifesting in the midst of darkness the light of God’s goodness. There are not many achievements greater than going the distance with a group of people whose commitment to the transcendent realities of life, make it possible for them to keep going together in the same direction for a long time.

This has been one of the great blessings of my life. It is a gift of pure grace. I am deeply grateful for those who continue with me to make this journey possible.