Leading while neither here nor there

Rev Sam Mawhinney

16.11.2021 | Congregational Life, Refined

Rev Sam Mawhinney, minister of Adelaide Road congregation in Dublin, shares his reflections on how he is finding leading in these ‘in between’ times as he seeks to follow Jesus in everyday living and church life.

Leadership in uncertainty

I talked with a friend today who told me their minister is ‘off work’ and he was described as lacking inspiration and drive. Most likely depressed. I feel for him. Honestly, I wondered how far away I was from that reality!

Blog_Nov16-(1).jpgI would describe myself as comfortable in the routine but struggling to break free with the energy and drive needed for the next phase of ministry post pandemic. ‘Leading while neither here nor there’ highlights the difficulty of leadership when uncertainty abounds and it is easy to remain ‘here’ which is not normal and yet more difficult to move forward to ‘there’, because of the uncertainty over what will happen next. The themes of exile and wilderness and the presence of God with us resonate strongly at this time. Here are a few thoughts from a fellow struggler on the journey.

Look after yourself physically and spiritually

At the beginning of the pandemic many of us had time to walk and exercise. Our garden was our ‘Green Gym’ and has never looked so well. Now we are busier, I have noticed a tendency to not be as active and having just returned from an hour on the bike I feel so much better. Be disciplined in exercise and rest.

The Psalms have been a great help in the lockdown, and they will be a great help in the recovery. My particular favourite is Psalm 46. Keep your spiritual disciplines strong.

Be aware of your personality and of working alone

Are you frustrated, annoyed, impatient or critical because your church is not where you think they should be? Or maybe you tend to sit back and let things trundle on without a thought. Problems are roadblocks and your church has simply got on with the same routine for months and to be honest, you're happy enough.

The situation the church faces is significant. The road ahead is uncharted and it will not be easily navigated by the lone and solitary explorer. We will need the help and advice of our elders, organisational leaders, and whatever other sources of help we can access. Leading while neither here nor there must be a collective church effort. Involve and talk to others. This helps include those who feel the vulnerability of others, brings in different perspectives and professional experience and this can help encourage you to think in different and creative ways. Sharing leadership creates a dynamic and a collective response which generates its own momentum.

Get back to basics and explore the foundations of church

I have recently read two books on the church which I can recommend: Love your church by Tony Merida and Church for grown-ups by John Benton. They impressed upon me, that while we may be in a place of neither here nor there, this time and place affords the opportunity to explore and build upon the solid foundations of church life and endeavour to grow those things which are important, which Benton lists as, love, mission, community, integrity of theology, stability and generosity.

I have been challenged and encouraged by having another look at the early chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, and the letter of the apostle Paul to the church in Corinth. Both remind us of the centrality of the church community and its activities and how church life can be extremely messy and in need of renewal. The church is vital and in need of renewal in this place and at this time. This is especially a time for strengthening, encouraging and comforting the members of the church through the ministry of the word in all its forms.

What it looks like to apply the following verses to our present situation is worth reflecting upon - Acts 3:19, 1 Corinthians 14:12 and 1 Thessalonians 5:11.

Practically our response has been to explore the last number of years in our church, revisit our mission plan, work through the excellent PCI resource, Opening up to God - Leading out of lockdown, and begin a look at strategy for the future. Along with this we are regularly praying each Sunday via Zoom. There is work involved in this. It is work that should be done collectively. However, it has been helpful, sobering and encouraging. Weakness shows up more clearly in this time and lessons are being learned in the current situation.

Keep your eyes on Jesus

Reading Paul’s pastoral letters shows us that Jesus Christ is the foundation of the church in every aspect, the chief cornerstone. We build on that foundation.

Writing in the introduction to his book The cost of discipleship, German wartime pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer criticised the church in Germany because they had lost sight of the glory of the person of the Lord Jesus in the terrible crises of the world war. I was encouraged as the reality of the truth of the companionship and leadership of Jesus struck afresh as we navigate the tricky way of leading while neither here nor there. He dwells with us, and he invites us to,

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

The Matt Redmond song, Heart of Worship, expresses this well in all the verses, but the chorus summarizes, “I'm coming back to the heart of worship, and it's all about You, It's all about You, Jesus”. We are secure in Christ, and we are to keep him central and rely upon his grace.

Living where we are in the light of where we are headed

Living ‘here’ is messy and broken. ‘There’, when in heaven and at the fulfilment of the kingdom of God, all will be ordered and prefect and we will see Jesus face to face. It is vital that we do not withdraw from the world as we find it at present, but also that we keep our eyes firmly on what is ahead.

Leading while neither here nor there can be accomplished by knowing Jesus and keeping a clear perspective of where we are and where we are headed even if now it seems like walking on the spot or through an uncharted wilderness, and that is best done in community.


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