I continue to find it helpful that we have identified and articulated the characteristics associated with being a flourishing church. As a reminder, the six elements have been a part of our conversations for several years, but in our vision framing process we were able to fine tune our language to help us have optimal clarity accessible to everyone (SEE HERE FOR VISION FRAME).
The second characteristic of a flourishing church is that it “Normalizes Risk Taking”. This is probably the most jolting to our historic understanding of what it means to be the church. The others ones are relatively intuitive even if they are not actualized!
Our normal tendency is to avoid risk and seek safety and security. I was recently doing some thinking and planning for our family’s future. In 7 years, I will have three kids in college. If I have 40 years in full-time ministry, I am half way through that and certainly need to have retirement planning on the radar. I have purchased home and life insurance in order to make sure my family is secure in the event of tragic situations. So you see, the idea of having risk be normalized is not a comforting thought for me - and certainly not for our churches.
To be clear, we are not saying that being risky means being careless or thoughtless. We are not suggesting a retirement strategy of going to Vegas and putting all of our retirement money on Red 14. However, we do often fail to move forward as individuals and as congregations because we are afraid of potential fall out, or negative consequences. We can probably all think of times where we knew the right direction for the church, or we knew we needed to have a hard conversation, but we failed to act because of the fear of what could happen.
In talking with churches about joining the Church Transformation Cohort, I would say that about half of the people don’t jump into the cohort because they are fearful of the changes that might take place and the resulting backlash. The churches that have said yes to the cohorts have faced those fears head on! They are willing to go forward, even though there will be some pain associated with the growth and change.
As I look at Scripture, I see God calling people to risk for his purpose in the world. I see it with Abram being called to leave everything that was familiar and comfortable to him to go to a place that God would show him. I think of Jonah going to Nineveh. I think of Jesus saying that if we want to follow Him we must pick up our cross daily. I think of the book of Acts when God told the disciples that they were going to be witnesses to the ends of the earth, and yet they didn’t go until persecution occurred.
As hard as it is to risk, often two powerful things occur when we normalize risk taking. First, we see great things happening for the Kingdom. I see it throughout Scripture and in people’s lives or church lives - that if they are following the Lord’s leading, He causes them to bear fruit. Second, we experience people growing in their relationship with the Lord in new ways. When we risk, it causes us to rely on God. I may be the only one like this, but when I am rocking along and “handling” my own problems and challenges, I am not as deeply connected with the Lord. The same is true in our churches, when we are going through difficulty, it can cause us to rely on the Lord in new and deeper ways.
I think the initiative that causes us to risk the most in ECO is the Church Transformation Cohort. As I mentioned above, it is risky for pastors and congregations! However, when they embrace the risk, they grow personally and corporately. I have talked a variety of times about Middle Presbyterian where Linda Snyder is the pastor. As you may remember, she spoke at our 2018 gathering in Houston as they were knee deep in the messiness of risk. We have assembled her story in a 10 minute video where you can hear from her and others in the congregation about how God has done tremendous things through the risk.
If your church is ready to normalize risk, or take your Flourishing Next Step, we encourage you to e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org to begin a conversation to help move toward greater flourishing as a church. One of my favorite verses when thinking about the churches in ECO is Philippians 1:6, which reminds us that God is not done with us, and He will complete the work in us and in our churches. I am also confident of that same thing. This confidence in the Lord allows us to risk to a greater extent in our present circumstances. I am so grateful for each of you and the ministry God has called you to. Let us know how we can empower you for even greater impact for Christ!