A number of years ago there was a popular book called “All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten.” Along with such sage advice as “share everything,” “hold hands and stick together,” and “take a nap every afternoon” was this little bit of wisdom to prepare you to take a leap of faith, step off of a familiar curb, navigate dangerous traffic, arrive safely on the other side and be on your way to somewhere new: Stop…look…and listen. To leap off the curb too quickly means running headlong into oncoming traffic. To stay where you are comfortable for too long means to miss out on all the wonderful things on the other side. But how is a kindergartener to have the courage to cross over to the other side? And how are we, as the people of God, to have the courage to go in the new directions God has in store for us, when the road ahead is full of unknowns? Maybe Stop...Look…and Listen is good advice after all.
And so we “Stop”, and in prayer take stock of where we are. Who are we? Where have we been? What has led us to the place we are now? Where has God called us in the past? In which direction are we headed? What are we afraid of? What dreams do we have? What miracles has God done among and through us? As part of our congregation’s transformation, we have been prayerfully asking these questions for the past several months, seeking to get a picture of who we are and what we are all about.
The next step, “Look,” may be one of the hardest. We are called to look around and see what God is already doing. What gifts do we have already? What is God up to in our congregation? What things is God already doing in our neighborhood? In our city? In our world? Seeing God at work in our lives is not always easy, but once we train ourselves a bit, once we start to see with a new set of eyes, it becomes difficult NOT to see what God is doing, and how God is already actively working to transform us.
Then we “Listen,” listen for where God might be calling us to go. Through prayer and reading the Bible together in community, we can start to hear that “still small voice” of God, gently leading us. But like seeing what God is doing, listening for God’s call takes practice and patience, and sometimes just giving something a try. By trying something new (and maybe failing) we can start to see where we are being led. And who knows, perhaps we’ll latch on to something God has in mind for us, and when this happens, there’s no telling where it will lead.
One of the principles of transformational ministry is that God has already given us the gifts we need to accomplish what we are being called to do. There are many example of this, and of the working of the Holy Spirit among us. I’ll share one example that happened in our own congregation this past month. Several months ago, I received in the mail a magazine and report from Lutheran World Relief, describing the work that God is already doing in the world through us through the ELCA. I read it, and instead of throwing it away, I passed it on to Jan Moorefield because I remembered a conversation she and I had about her passion for Global Mission. I had been praying that God would put something in my way that would help Jan find a way to put this gift into service at Bethlehem. Jan read it, and was inspired (by the Holy Spirit, I believe) with an idea for a Global Mission Sunday for Bethlehem this fall.
When the idea was presented to the council, not only was it given a strong word of support, but three more people felt called to participate, bringing their various gifts and ideas. When I got home that night, and relayed to my wife the miracle that people were not only volunteering for a new committee (amazing!) but were actually excited about it (double amazing!) her response was, “That sounds like fun, can I be a part of it too?” Now this little idea about “something to do with global mission” has turned into a plan for a festival worship, a “fair trade” fair, a global foods potluck, an event to invite our neighborhood to, an education event about our companion synod in Tanzania, and all sorts of other things that God is inspiring us to do (and some we haven’t even seen yet). Pay attention, folks, this is what Transformation looks like—God working through us to lead us in new directions, putting to use our gifts, raising up leaders, inspiring us to new ministry, and giving us the energy and willingness to do something new. And it’s fun!
Stop…Look…and Listen. Where is God calling you?