Are You Ready for an Adventure?
"Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." --Isaiah 41:10 ESV
About a year ago, my sister moved from Kansas City to Los Angeles, California to pursue a new position within another division of her company. Although my parents were excited for her and this new adventure, they also were quite afraid of the changes this would bring for them. You see my parents do not fly. Up until this point, they primarily traveled by car, dad doing the driving, and Mom either knitting or sleeping in the passenger seat.
When my sister went to graduate school in Arizona, my parents drove and moved her out in their van. Their follow-up trips to visit her were rare because of the distance and the time necessary to make the drive. I cannot imagine how pleased they were when she finished graduate school and immediately found a job in Kansas City.
Other than the few years my sister lived in Arizona, for most of our adult lives, all of us kids (my brother, sister and I) have always lived within reasonable driving distance of my parents. Thus, air travel was not necessary. Therefore, my sister's recent move caused a great deal of anxiety for my parents. It had been a long time since they had made a long-distance car trip. They worried they might not see her new home, her new office, and her new city.
For Father's Day last year, my sister gave them a Southwest gift card to cover the costs of air travel. Yet, it wasn't the cost of flights that was the problem. It was because airplanes were not how they traveled. It was not what they were familiar with, what they knew, and what they had always done. In short, they were fearful of all of the unknowns.
My husband and I told Mom and Dad that we would take some vacation days to accompany them on a trip to California to visit my sister. We promised to help them through the entire process from buying the airplane tickets online, to going through security at the St. Louis airport, to driving in LA and navigating LAX for the flight back home. I challenged myself to see things through the eyes and experience of persons who had not traveled in any other way than being in the driver's seat per se.
Seeing the trip through my parents' eyes was educational and a bit transformative to me. I tried to prepare them for each step and what they might experience. As I broke down the process of travel step by step, I could readily see how it all seemed strange, confusing, and overwhelming because they had never done it that way.
Church growth experts and church leaders in general often remark that the two of the most common statements of a dying church are "But we've never done it that way before" and "But we always do it this way." I too have offhandedly joked about these statements out of frustration that a church would not try something new. Yet, watching my parents step out of their comfort zone, face their fears and try something new, I understood not just the courage it took, but the coaxing and coaching it took along the way for them to tackle the unknown.
The same is true for those of us in the church. It is not enough to talk simply about the changes we must embrace. I think it is necessary to spend time talking about why, what it might look like, what makes us anxious or fearful and how we might prepare for the unexpected.
For example, in our conversations with my Mom before our trip to California, when she would question her own sanity of agreeing to fly, I would focus on WHY we were making the trip. I tried to anticipate what things might make them the most anxious during the process and explain what they could expect.
We even went through a practice session of going through security by setting up a mock conveyor belt and baskets in the living room to explain what they would do in the TSA line. It became evident that the more they understood what they might encounter, the more prepared they felt, and the more comfortable they were in doing something so new.
The highlights of the trip for me were: watching them take pictures from the airplane and talk on the beauty of the skyline, seeing the pride on their faces as they toured my sister's workplace, experiencing the sights and sounds of LA with them, and hearing them explain to my sister how uneventful (despite some heavy turbulence) the flight was.
The truth is none of that would have been possible if my parents were not willing to be honest about their fears, ask questions, and being willing to learn and experience something new and outside of their comfort zone. It took great courage and bravery and the reward was a great adventure.
In the Church, it will take great courage and bravery to face our fears and anxieties for stepping in the unknowns, those things we have never tried or done before. Now more than ever, I believe our growth both numerically and spiritually depends on our willingness to embark on a new adventure of trusting to walk and move where the Spirit of God will lead us.
However, I don't believe it has to be a maverick mission. I believe we can walk gently with one another--making space for asking questions, facing our fears, seeking direction and guidance from others who have traveled new paths, and taking the time to allow people to learn, process and explore. I believe a great adventure is on the horizon for the Church. May we be able to travel together helping each other step outside of our comfort zones and face our fears so that we may more fully see, experience and explore the new and fresh ways the Spirit of God is continuing to create the Kingdom of God.
Blessings, Rev. Shana Johnson, Conference Minister