I love it when a trusted friend reminds me of something that I already knew, but had forgotten in the midst of competing agendas, stressors, and “trying to be all things to all people.”
It happened this past week. I was talking with a friend about the sense of responsibility I feel in this position and looking for some understanding and maybe even a little advice. I explained to her that there were parts of this position that took almost no effort at all. They fit my natural energies, passions and inclinations. I also admitted that there were parts that felt like I was running a race with 20-pound weights on my shoes. I could do them, but the emotional effort that they required seemed out of proportion to the tasks themselves.
My friend, who knows me pretty well, said, “I don’t know if you want advice, but I am going to give it anyway. I think you need to follow your energy.”
I smiled immediately and almost laughed to myself as she was reminding me of the advice that I have typically given to our churches. “Follow the energy” has been my broken-record repetitive motto for years. For churches and organizations that are asking questions about revitalization and new life I have said over and over again, “Follow the energy.”
I have come to believe this modern proverb is just a more contemporary way of saying, “Trust the Holy Spirit.”
This is way too simplified, but I feel like I trust God with the grand unfolding of history and the universe. I trust Jesus to be my moral compass and the ground of my soul. The Holy Spirit is in another category, a category that is more intuitive than rational. I trust the Holy Spirit when the way isn’t exactly clear and I have to listen more to my body and more to the direction of the wind than anything else. In other words, looking for and following energy more than anything else.
I remember how this played out at Eastminster Church (read story here) in NE Portland a few years ago. We all knew that Eastminster was dangerously close to closing and, therefore, gave us permission to experiment and not worry too much about success and failure.
From the very beginning, I reinforced that our experimenting and our programming should be heavily based on “following the energy” and trusting the Spirit to guide our decisions and commitments. Decisions came easily. If an idea had no energy behind it or for it we simply let it drop. If an idea spurred specific people into action we adopted it.
Not everything we adopted became successful. But everything we did adopt taught us something about ourselves and about our community. We were moving toward something even in failure. The motto “follow the energy” helped us to be honest about ourselves. We were able to acknowledge our gifts and our limitations. Eventually we noticed that there was more energy and resources in the community for our mission than there was actual energy in the congregation.
I reinforced again that it was still important to follow the energy. It was a nervous moment.
- “What would it mean to take advantage of the energy in the community and lose our grip on the reins of controlling our mission?”
- “Would the church have to change?”
- “Would we feel like we were losing our church to an outside group?”
Despite the anxiety the church stepped forward and invited those who had energy for our mission to shape the ministry of the church. Nine months later Eastminster was host to a 60-bed family homeless shelter serving the community during the six coldest months in partnership with Human Solutions. Nine months after that a 100-plot, ¾ acre community garden in partnership with Grow Portland was opened for the largely immigrant population of East Portland.
I write this because when I first arrived the congregation still dreamed of filling their four empty classrooms with Sunday school children again. At first there was some energy in the congregation to jump start that. But after a year it was clear that there was little energy in the community for Sunday school at this site.
Trusting the Holy Spirit and following the energy the congregation soon discovered that there was great energy in the community to commit to Matthew 25-like ministries—feeding those who are hungry (community garden) and welcoming the stranger (homeless shelter). The community and the church shared a common mission.
Eastminster could have never pulled this off by themselves. Quite simply there was not enough energy in the aging congregation of 35 members. But rather than beat themselves up for the lack of energy among themselves they looked at their mission and then asked the question, “Who has the energy to carry out Christ’s mission in our neighborhood?” It only took a few phone calls and a couple of lunch dates to find out and Eastminster almost couldn’t keep up with the pace of progress once the community was invited in to help shape their ministry.
Eastminster did eventually close, but the homeless shelter remained for four years before outgrowing the space. The community garden has now expanded to include an orchard and honeybees. And most of the original Eastminster members still worship there as part of the Parkrose United Church of Christ (who, by the way, had the energy to continue the mission initiated by Eastminster!).
I do realize that there are some things that feel like you are dragging 20-pound weights on your feet and you still have do them anyway. Not everything in life is easy and fun. But anytime we can work with the energy rather than against it we make room for the Holy Spirit to show up and do her thing!
I still marvel at the short nine months that it took Eastminster to go from asking the question, “Who has the energy in the community for our mission” to the opening of a 60-bed family homeless shelter in their church building and the follow up construction of the community garden.
I had be reminded this week personally to worry less about meeting all the expectations of the job and to focus more on those things that personally energize me. It was something I taught and learned while serving as pastor at Eastminster.
I will use my little lesson as a reminder to you as well.
Follow the energy.
Do what you love.
Trust the Holy Spirit.
Let God handle the rest.
Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades