“Hope is not a strategy,” said the presenter to a room of ministers, most serving declining churches. Eyebrows raised, people shifted in chairs, and then began to lock eyes as if telepathically saying ‘did you hear this?’ It was as if he cursed God.
As we continue to slosh through the pandemic, churches are looking differently. One hundred percent haven’t returned to in-person worship and likely won’t. Online worship is at an all-time high. So church, what’s next? Pastors and ministers, how are you leading in this next iteration of church, which is hybrid, smaller, grassroots, centered in community and authenticity, and likely not happening only on a Sunday morning? All the while, conflict continues to rage internationally and impacts of the pandemic on businesses and economy linger. This is church unlike any of us have ever experienced.
Of the last few churches I’ve coached in Emotional Intelligence, which is being smarter with emotions, I’ve noticed a trend. They are challenged in the area of optimism. The specific competency is titled Exercise Optimism. It’s defined as “taking a proactive perspective of hope and possibility.” It’s this competency that helps people and organizations generate ideas, possibilities, and solutions. Without it, groups might start to feel like they are wandering in the wilderness with no hope of manna let alone The Promised Land.
The church, of all people, identify as people of hope and Good News. This gospel is rooted in the “impossible” reality of the incarnation, the short yet seismic earthly Jesus ministry of forgiveness and liberation, and the unexpected result of the resurrection. Yet we find ourselves amiss.
Hope is not a strategy.
I agree with the presenter. Hope is more than a strategy, it is the lifeblood of our identity in Christ and in community. Along the way the Church has lost the power and possibility of hope. Instead, we decline in number, deterioriate in spiritual practices, defend nationalistic values, and arrive at dead ends wondering what’s next.
It’s time to reclaim our hope and identity in Christ (not just in a proclamation but in demonstration). Here are a few ways we can begin re-rooting ourselves in hope.
The Story. The Gospel. The Good News. Humanity is a story people. We lean in when a story begins. To reclaim our hope we are invited to share where Jesus’ life and ministry of liberation and restoration is happening still today. The question isn’t if it is happening, but where? For whom?
But nothing, not even my life, is more important than my completing my mission. This is nothing other than the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus: to testify about the good news of God’s grace. Acts 20:24
Share grace-filled stories in church, but more importantly share the story in your community. Be a story people once again with an oral history. Share person to person. Then maximize one method of delivering The Good News as told by real people to those beyond the walls. Consider social media, radio, podcasts, events, and virtual and in-person workshops, social media advertising - even.
“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love [God] Him.” 1 Cor 2:9
Read about trends in business, real estate, personal development and ask how might this impact the church in the next one, three and five years. Church is often late to change, like decades late. We must look ahead and begin to see and imagine what’s coming and to do so with hope and not dread. In Corinthians, we’re called to cultivate expectancy for that which we’ve never seen as we look to the future.
Do a new thing and then do it again. Church is continuing to take shape as our context evolves. Leave some breathing room to assess what needs to stop, start and continue in your life and the ministry. Then be intentional to execute at least one thing you’ve assessed. Intentional is not overthinking it or analysis paralysis rather is it deliberate action forward.
So What’s Next?
Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us… Ephesians 3:20
May we reclaim our hope by being story people, future focused, and fearless in iterating. Then may we give God glory for what God will do with us, the church, and the world. The impossible is at hand when we hold on to our hope-filled identity.
Forgive us, Lord, for allowing our hope in you to fade. For praying for likelihoods, probabilities, and possibilities because we’ve narrowed faith and trust in you to formulaic certainty. Yet, you are the God of impossibilities, miracles, and surprises. Help us to remember and reclaim our hope in you. Then may we act with boldness as we live out this hope. In the name of Jesus and through the power of the Holy Spirit we pray. Amen.
With whom might you share this today? Forward it now.