By Rev. Kathy Neary
As Transitional Ministry Developer for the Pacific Northwest Conference, my job is to help small churches discern their next steps for ministry. I’ve been doing this for three years now, so you might think I know some magic tricks to get churches to “turn around.” I don’t. Instead, my job has become walking with churches as they attempt to discern what God is calling them to become and be. Sometimes I have nothing to offer, and sometimes I am inspired to provide an idea that sparks a movement in the ministry. Most of the time, I am just listening.
Lately, I have been hearing a familiar cry from church leaders. They are tired, exhausted, really. And they have noticed that the folks in their churches are equally weary. There is little energy for restarting ministries, even less for doing the ministries in new and exciting ways. Right when we all feel as if this is a critical transition moment that we must seize and respond to with new ideas, innovations, and massive amounts of commitment and enthusiasm, we are at our lowest point of energy. A common refrain I hear is, “If I can just get through the next week/ next project/ next meeting, I’ll be able to rest. I’ll be able to breathe.” I have found myself thinking every Friday (I don’t serve a local church), “Whew, I made it one more week!” It doesn’t matter what I did during the week: I just made it through. That is no way to live.
When I talked about this with my coach, Mary Scifres, she used the word “resuscitation” to capture what we need. I pounced on that word. Our theology tells us we should focus on resurrection, but, come on, that’s a bit beyond us right now. Instead, what we need is to be resuscitated. We are drowning in stress, anxiety, fear, guilt, and uncertainty. We need to be breathed into. We need God to breathe into us the breath of life. And we don’t need this breath just once, and we are good to go. Imagine a person dragged lifeless from the ocean, and some good soul performs CPR on them. They breathe into that person to restore life. Once the person is breathing, they are not sent right back into the water! They rest. They learn to breathe normally again. We need this. We need to breathe in the breath of God, and we need to rest there.
So, here’s my one magic trick: let’s just breathe in God’s spirit and rest for a season. However you encounter God’s Spirit, do that for a season. Just breathe. Invite your congregation to do the same thing. Put aside any big audacious plans for reaching the masses, or fixing the universe, and just breathe, for a season. Replace all that activity with gently teaching your folks how to breathe. We’ll be okay, even if we aren’t “accomplishing anything.” Let God resuscitate us. After we learn to breathe again and rest, God will show us a new season. God always does. Give yourselves permission: just breathe.
Rev. Kathy Neary serves as Transitional Ministry Developer for the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.