This week we continued with our study on Michael Harvey’s book, Unlocking the Growth, chapters 4-5. In these chapters, Michael Harvey gets more concrete about how to become an inviting church and why people don’t come back the second time. One of the gifts Harvey gives to the Church is his fearlessness in saying things that most of us are thinking! Once he’s said them out loud, he helps us take a look at them – really take a look! – and then figure out what to do with these home truths.
Perhaps the most striking of these home truths in this chapter is found on p. 71-2: “our tendency is to measure any new idea by the life that we know. But if we are not careful, all our decisions will be ruled by our past experiences…. We need to expand our vision of ourselves, let our imagination run free, instead of letting our past dictate our future. Nothing is impossible for God!” In part, what Harvey is talking about here is a fear of failure and an unwillingness to try new, risky things, because of the pain we have suffered in the past, and the pain we continue to experience as we witness the decline of the Church. These are painful things to acknowledge, and it’s a painful proposal, to suggest that we open our imaginations and believe God could do something different here.
A quick story. In 2013, I went with two other young women to South Dakota, to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The Lakota people of the Reservation had invited the Brothers from Taize to come lead a weekend, and they’d invited people from around the world to come too. We spent 5 days tenting on the open plain, overlooking an enormous and beautiful “painted” valley, learning, praying and singing together. It was a powerful experience, and a good deal more complicated than I think any of us had expected in advance. Reconciliation after generations of wrong-doing cannot be overcome in a single weekend. But something small was happening, by the grace of God. And on the last day, one of the brothers said this line that will always stick with me: grace is the possibility that the future will not always be determined by the past.
Grace is the possibility that the future will not always be determined by the past – bound by the past. Just because something has been a certain way, does not mean it will always be that way. Grace is that property of God that allows room for the future to be something different – better, brighter – than what our experience would lead us to expect.
The reason I have been keen for us to read Michael Harvey’s book is not necessarily because I think we need to follow his program in perfect detail. It’s rather because I think he points out a concrete opportunity for us to expand our experience of God moving in our lives and moving in our world. By getting us to name our fears (in this case our fears of something that is genuinely not dangerous to our safety), and then challenge our fears, and speak honestly about what’s holding us back, and then to ask ourselves: “do we believe God might be at work in me? In someone else’s life?” Michael Harvey invites us to grow deeper in trusting God and following God’s call in our lives. And he invites us, politely, to get out of the way of what God is doing.
If we genuinely challenge ourselves to believe that God is doing something in the hearts of people out there, and we challenge ourselves to believe that God could be doing something through our lives too, and then if we all work together to see God happening – I think that sounds like a great thing for our congregation.
And imagine if, along the way, not only do we deepen in our faith, we also get to discover God in the lives of people we know, and meet all kinds of people we haven’t met before, that sure would be a beautiful thing. Don’t you think?
So whether you’re following the study or not – I really recommend you read the book, and let’s figure out together what this could look like for St. George’s to try something like this out.
The next session of the Lenten Study is THIS SUNDAY, following our shared service (10am) and potluck lunch.
God bless friends.