Dear Friends in Christ,
“The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah. In the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, while I was in Susa the capital, one of my brothers, Hanani, came with certain men from Judah; and I asked them about the Jews that survived, those who had escaped the captivity, and about Jerusalem. They replied, “The survivors there in the province who escaped captivity are in great trouble and shame; the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been destroyed by fire” (Nehemiah 1:1-3).
Nehemiah was in Babylon when he received the report (from his brother Hanani), about the current reality of Jerusalem. Conditions are deplorable. The wall of the once great city is a pile of rubble. The gates are charred. God’s people are in trouble. I wonder if Nehemiah was sorry he asked.
One of the primary tasks of a leader is to define the current reality. The other primary task is to provide the hope of a compelling mission and vision. Great leaders actually do both. They help an organization / congregation to name “out loud” the current “state of affairs” and then lead them to a new and hopeful reality. It is necessary for us to know who we are, before we can prayerfully discern whom God is calling us to be. One of my favorite authors is Thomas Friedman, and in his recent book, Thank You for Being Late, he writes, “The role of a leader is ‘to help people face reality and to mobilize them to make a change.”
I find many of our parishes are averse to naming and facing their current reality. Many are still living in the past, and trying to do what used to work before, but what used to work before doesn’t work anymore. Others are still trying to be “all things to all people” (if only we could do more, and more, and more…), all the while losing sight of the main thing (to make disciples). Still others are paralyzed by fear due to declining worship attendance, lack of a called pastor, and dwindling resources.
I want to encourage you to take some intentional time in 2018 to define your current reality. To name “out loud” the current “state of affairs” in the parish where you lead, worship, and serve. Gather on a Saturday morning, begin with Bible study (see below) and prayer, and then honestly assess: your strengths, your challenges, the demographics of your congregation, and the demographics of your community. List the things that bring joy and inspiration. List the things that bring exhaustion and frustration. Leave no stone unturned.
After the current reality exercise is finished, invite a team of 2-3 people to “gather up the notes” and write a 2-page document (6-8 paragraphs) that honestly describes your parish. This Ministry Site Statement should answer a very simple question, “Who are we (as a parish)?” As I shared above, it is necessary for us to know who we are, before we can prayerfully discern whom God is calling us to be. We need to be fully aware of our current reality.
Let us pray,
God of wonder and hope, as the truth of Jerusalem was shared with your servant Nehemiah, so might you lead us to discover our current reality. Help us to walk out of the past, through the fear, and to that place where you long for us to be. Send your Holy Spirit to guide us, that we may face the truth, and set aside our will, for your will. This we pray in the powerful name of Jesus. Amen.
For a fuller look at Nehemiah the leader and Nehemiah the prayer, check out my Bible Study on the Book of Nehemiah.