Many of us can’t wait for this pandemic to end so we can get back to normal.
Years ago, an organization I worked for was experiencing severe financial troubles. As the board was wrestling with ways to get out of these troubles, one of the board members stated, “I can’t wait until we find our way out of the woods.” To which another board member commented, “maybe this is the new reality. Instead of trying to find our way out of the woods, maybe we should learn how to live in the woods.” Gulp.
Maybe living in the woods is our new reality. Perhaps the new era of ministry is not a focus on trying to return to some image we have of the past. Just maybe we are being called to be and serve right here in the woods. Maybe we are being called to live among uncertainty, change, foreign landscape and discomfort.
Living in the woods is scary. It takes both a different mindset and a different skillset.
- Instead of trying to find our way out – back to normal – we learn how to live in our new reality.
- The survival skills of living outside the woods are different than the ones needed to live inside the woods. It’s harder work. The civilized world outside the woods bear little resemblance to life in the woods.
- We don’t control our climate or our challenges. We don’t control our environment, but our environment controls us and what we can do.
- We are very interdependent, relying on each other and the skills each brings to the tasks of living in the woods. One is great at hunting. Another is great at cutting and gathering wood. Yet another is a great cook.
- We see things differently. Our needs are different. Our tasks are different. Our relationships are different. Our entire reality is different living in the woods rather than trying to get out of the woods.
- It might be a simpler life. It might be a harder life. It might be a better life.
This, of course, is all metaphor. But a rather stark one for the church. Our congregations are living in the woods right now. Many of us are wanting, and planning, for a return to life outside the woods. Our questions about wanting the pandemic to end so we can return to normal is a denial of our current and future reality.
We will never return to the way things were.
Our world is forever changed by this pandemic. What was predicted by epidemiologists and horror films has finally come to pass. We can no longer live in denial and continue as if nothing has happened or may happen again. This changes us.
I don’t know what this means for you and your church. That’s what you will need to talk about and figure out for yourselves. What I do know is that congregations that continue to look for ways out of the woods may very well be lost for good.
What does living your mission “in the woods” look like? How can you live your mission “in the woods?”
Rev. Tom Jolivette | Consultant | email