Early in the pandemic, the question I heard most from congregational leaders around the United States and from the members of my own congregation in North Carolina was, “When will things get back to normal?” As days of sheltering at home became weeks and then months, that question shifted to become, “Will things go back to normal?” That question, too, evolved over time as people began asking, “What if things don’t go back to the way they were?” Now, I hear more congregational leaders wrestling with a fourth question — “What could this new future look like?”
It’s this fourth question we’ll explore together in the weeks ahead as we think about the future of congregational life. This week, Alex Shea Will begins our exploration by encouraging congregations to be honest and curious about finding healthier patterns in their life together. Then, Susan Beaumont with the Congregational Consulting Group reflects on how congregations get on the same page now in decision-making and future planning. Finally, Sarai Rice, also writing for the Congregational Consulting Group, talks about when it’s time to let go of programs and projects in order to start something new.
If you haven’t spent time with Susan Beaumont’s new book, How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, we will introduce you to the book.
Welcome to the Weekly.
Let’s re-envision “normal”
Alex Shea Will, the associate pastor at South Church (UCC) in Andover, Massachusetts, says that returning to congregational life as we knew it before the pandemic isn’t very appealing to him. He challenges congregations not to discard the good we’ve found during the pandemic, including some healthier patterns for clergy and members alike.
Resources for leaders during the pandemic
Getting on the same page now
“Moving forward calls for imagination and resilience,” writes Susan Beaumont. “Vital congregations will resist the impulse to plan their way out of liminality.” So what should we do? The former Alban Senior Consultant offers wisdom.
When to let go
While it is never easy to end an initiative, program or project, the pandemic has increased our awareness that some congregational offerings need to come to an end. Sarai Rice helps us think about which ones.
From the Alban Library
How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going: Leading in a Liminal Season
by Susan Beaumont
How do you lead an organization stuck between an ending and a new beginning — when the old way of doing things no longer works but a way forward is not yet clear? Beaumont calls such in-between times liminal seasons — threshold times when the continuity of tradition disintegrates and uncertainty about the future fuels doubt and chaos. In a liminal season it simply is not helpful to pretend we understand what needs to happen next. But leaders can still lead.
How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going is a practical book of hope for tired and weary leaders who risk defining this era of ministry in terms of failure or loss. It helps leaders stand firm in a disoriented state, learning from their mistakes and leading despite the confusion. Packed with rich stories and real-world examples, Beaumont guides the reader through practices that connect the soul of the leader with the soul of the institution.
Before you go…
“What could this new future look like?”
It’s a hopeful question that gives our congregations a sense of agency again. It’s a truth-telling question, recognizing that all that we knew as “normal” may not be possible anymore. It’s a justice-seeking question, honoring that there were elements of our past “normal” that were not holy, good or life-giving. It’s a creative question that invites us to ask what’s possible now.
It’s a question we’ll keep exploring next week. See you then. In the meantime, peace!
Managing Director, Alban at Duke Divinity