“Where’s my son!”
I felt my stomach sink a little as the parent who was walking in the middle of our group of confirmation students called out. Jason, the son in question, was a quiet 13-year old and the last person I had expected to go missing. But as I spun around from my place in the front, scanning our group and the woods surrounding us, I realized quickly he was nowhere to be seen.
It was a beautiful, fall day. And our church had taken a big group of students out to a nearby nature preserve to experience worship outdoors. Despite the adult leaders and a fairly straight-forward trail system, our progress to get to the outdoor amphitheater for worship had been constantly hindered. Often, we had to stop and go backwards to catch up with curious stragglers, and now with Jason missing, we would have to regroup to find him as quickly as possible.
Despite our shared mission to get to the amphitheater and worship, our forward momentum was just not happening.
Back then, I thought our mission for that day was clear, and I was frustrated. After all, it was in the handouts we shared the week prior. It was published on the FB event everyone had RSVP’d to, so wasn’t that almost as good as gospel?
The reality is that once we were out in the forest, surrounded by vibrant falling leaves, cairns built by previous visitors, and all sorts of living sculptures created by a local artist, the overwhelming amount of things to experience quickly overcame any objective we had for the students.
Not only were we not aligned with our mission; we weren’t physically aligned as a group. So, it’s no wonder our resources felt scattered, and our time to worship kept getting pushed back.
I hope you never have to worry about a student lost in the woods. Yet, I am sure you can relate to the experience of being with a group in which the mission seems so clear, but the follow-through is just not happening.
In the church world, that vibrant forest of distractions is ever present at each committee, in budgeting conversations, and in annual meetings. Instead of beautiful falling leaves, it’s a cascade of bills. Instead of a missing son, it might be dwindling tithes. We wonder why aren’t things lining up? Why does so much feel so stuck when our mission seems so clear?
It can be discouraging to hold on to the greater mission in light of funding challenges, heated budget conversations, and the regular financial demands that crop up. For each step forward, two or three steps back appear, and the result is we can become continuously dragged backwards.
On that confirmation trip, all twenty-four of us halted in place and waited, listening to the sounds of birds and the creaking of the trees in the light wind. Two parents found Jason only a quarter mile behind us dealing with a very complicated shoe lace catastrophe. Next to the bench he was sitting on was a small wooden box that had maps. One of the parents grabbed a handful, and she handed them out when she got back to the group. We showed them our destination and reminded the students that we were headed to worship, and we would get there together.
It might not feel like it now, but whatever situation your congregation is mired in, whatever is pulling you backwards, or whatever is diverting your progress can be turned around. There is a way forward from the overwhelm, fatigue, and lack of alignment that comes with the challenges of dwindling offerings, budget constraints, and disagreements.
Debuting this month is an incredible new online learning experience that you can take solo or journey through with an entire congregation. Funding Forward: A Pathway to More Sustainable Models for Ministry will guide and empower you with interactive features, useful tools, and engaging video teaching. You will also hear from leaders around the US in case studies and living parables and have access to an online group to get and give support to the others journeying with you.
The truth is that stopping in the proverbial woods as a group, to re-assess, learn new things, and re-align with the greater mission is the beginning of that forward progress that we so need. It makes the next steps possible. That possibility, alignment, and opportunity to move ahead is what I want to invite you and your congregation to do in Funding Forward: A Pathway to More Sustainable Models for Ministry.
And while we anticipate the release of this course, consider attending our free Funding Forward webinar on January 29th at 7 pm (Central) to get a look at what the next era of church funding might look like.