After the long haul of avoiding personal contact over the last year, I was treated this past weekend to some rich engagement with one of my long-time good friends. I met my friend nearly thirty years ago when we both were serving churches in a small rural town in Northern California. We both were young ministers in only our second calls—me a Presbyterian, he a Methodist.
Over the past three decades, we have followed each other’s vocational and personal paths. Both of us experienced divorce and stepped in for each other to navigate the chaotic waters of a broken dream. He went on to complete a PhD in clinical psychology; I eventually moved into this executive position.
Over the weekend, we caught up with each other, shared stories about our families, compared notes on what it is like to be single and in the ministry, and talked about how much ministry has changed in the nearly thirty years since we met. I listened as he shared his plans on how to help his church shift toward small group ministry focused on spiritual care and growth and less on worship. He listened as I talked about my desire to lead our presbytery through a process of transformation with a more missional focus.
As he listened, I was going on about all the changes that have occurred in our presbytery and the sobering projections of what we saw on the horizon. I was sharing the potential vision that was emerging as we anticipated churches putting in place their legacies. He heard my hopes that we would re-direct our resources to affordable housing, a Coastal Camino, house churches, new pastoral configurations and an institute to study Christian spirituality, among other emerging possibilities.
But I also shared how overwhelming all this was and the sense of responsibility I feel most mornings when I wake up. He was picking up on my anxiety as he listened. Finally, when he noticed a moment of vulnerability and openness in me, he stopped me, looked straight into my eyes and said, “Brian, God’s got this!”
He was picking up that not only did I have hopes for the presbytery, but that I also felt like I was personally responsible to MAKE those hopes turn into reality. He was picking up on the fact that I was talking as if the future was completely dependent on my ambition, perseverance, and dogged determination. He was wondering if this presbytery executive friend had also made room for God.
“God’s got this!” he interjected with a knowing smile.
I needed to hear it. I needed to be reminded that my role is not to make something happen, but to be faithful to the process and allow God to do what God does best—that is, transform challenges into opportunities and death into life.
I write this to you because I have picked up on the same anxiety in many of our congregations. So many of the conversations I am having with church leadership reveal this belief that the future of the church is completely dependent on what we do, how hard we work, and how strategically smart we are. I can hear it in your voices just like my friend heard it in mine, “This is completely up to us!” We feel overwhelmed by the sense of responsibility and the weightiness of the issues.
I thought about the conversation with my friend. Both of us were expressing the need to make dramatic shifts in our church systems. But he didn’t feel personally responsible for the eventual outcome, whereas I seemed to express that the outcome would be a sign of my personal success or failure. Quite honestly, it reveals a certain level of ego and arrogance to tie the future of the church to what we personally do or do not do.
With those three quick words, “God’s got this,” my friend reminded me that we don’t play God. The eventual outcome on the future of the church is up to God. Faithfulness is up to us.
Let us do what can. Let us love one another. Let us act with an eye toward justice, kindness and humility.
Then, let us allow God to be God.
“God’s got this.”
By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades