Updated: Mar 31, 2020
Standing on the cusp of a new year it is natural to look into the future with its challenges and opportunities. What is our plan at Trinity for 2020? There are two approaches used to answer the question.
The first approach is suggested in leadership books and training sessions. The key word is “envision.” “Envision the future,” determine where you want the congregation to be in 5 years and 10 years ahead. Then make an action plan, set goals to arrive at that future. It is very important to describe that future dream, recruit stakeholders, then keep on task.
The word and idea of “envisioning” is interesting. According to the Oxford online dictionary the word means “to look at one’s self” and by extension of meaning to “see in one’s mind’s eye.” The word has no historic English language usage. According to the dictionary the word first appeared in the 1920's at a time when Fredrick Taylor was streamlining the assembly lines at Henry Ford’s automotive plants. The word was little used until the 1990's. I suspect it rocketed into our vocabulary with the explosion of books on management technique. The key concepts behind “envision” are to calculate and manipulate.
Given the etymology and application, the word and process indicate a subjective emphasis. If the word has any objective referent it is to see the future through the lens of self with the goal of imposing self-will on the future.
A person immersed in Christian spirituality should see the problems with such an approach. There is the practical problem of an unanticipated circumstance. Human beings are fickle and finite, they don’t behave and they die unexpectedly. Massive political and economic realities often take unpredictable and sometimes disastrous turns. There is a theological problem. The future lies in the hands of God.
The alternative approach to the future is faithfulness and constancy. These disciplines have a rich and deep history. Faithfulness and constancy don’t depend on ten year projections. Faithfulness and constancy understand the disciplines of the day will lead to their own outcomes in the future. Those outcomes are ultimately in the hands of God and God’s providence.
In the latter half of the first century Timothy was given charge of the church at Ephesus. At one time the church was a healthy, functioning body of Christ. By the time Timothy arrived the church was diminished. Paul did not ask Timothy to “envision” the future. Paul advised constancy and faithfulness. “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you have learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man or woman of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:14-17)
This has become my guiding verse for 2020. The key word is “continue.” Timothy is to continue in the community of faithful women and men as they are gathered and instructed by Scripture day by day, and as they met the challenges and opportunities of life. Their daily commitment to faith, hope, and love will result in a future of faith, hope, and love.
Richard Rohr writes, “We all tend to aim for the goal instead of the journey itself, but spiritually speaking, how we get there is where we arrive. The journey determines the final destination. If we manipulate our way, we end up with a manipulated, self-made god. If we allow ourselves to be drawn and chosen by love, we might just end up with the real God.”
There is a wonderful freedom in paying attention to the journey and simply “continuing.” We have Scripture and we live by faith. Since we have found God in Christ good beyond our desiring and deserving, we live in good hope.
I suppose some strategic planning is fine as so as it doesn’t become a distraction from our daily journey. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote, “Each day we are becoming a creature of splendid glory or one of unthinkable shame.” My plan for 2020? To capture a phrase from one of Eugene Peterson’s books, to continue each day “a long obedience in the same direction.”