Discerning Clues for the Future
By Thomas Risager
What do leaders do? Pastors are leaders, and one of the important tasks of leaders is discerning clues for the future to which God is calling our congregations. Leaders look for clues that help define reality and identify God's vision. A pastoral leader helps the church come to an honest and truthful realization of the congregation’s situation, while at the same time pointing to vision and new future.
Leaders look for clues in many places. The clues may be seen in the congregation, in the community, and in the larger culture. I believe these are clues given by the Holy Spirit if we are open to seeing them. When you see homeless hungry people in your community, God may break your heart over this situation and create a suffering in you. This could be God’s way of giving you a clue for the future.
Two illustrations come to mind from my church in Denmark where we were able to take a clue from reality and turn what seemed to be a problem into a challenge and then an opportunity.
The first example comes from a time when we did not have enough people who could play the organ. From time to time we had to have a service where there was no organ music. We sang a cappella, and a CD-player was used for the prelude and postlude. This was not desirable.
I then glimpsed a clue. We had a relatively new gospel choir. I came to realize that we already had very gifted musicians—including a very gifted and educated piano player. We were viewing our reality too narrowly. We did not lack musicians, just organists! Instead of having a problem, we had a great opportunity to change the way we worshipped and an opportunity to bring the contemporary music that our "target audience" really liked into the heart of our church and its worship. Today our church is well known and respected for its fantastic music, gospel concerts, and contemporary services, which attract a lot of unchurched people. What if we had missed the clue? I dare not think about it!
The second example is a clue from the community. It was a demographic clue, and it came from the bell tower of our church, of all places. Sitting in our bell tower, you can see the entire community. Within a one-mile radius, we have 1,000 households. The area is in the city centre of Odense, Denmark. Most of the buildings are apartment buildings with relatively small but expensive apartments. People living here are well-educated people with good jobs. They love living in the city. There are also many young people studying at the universities in town. So this area consists primarily of young adults who are establishing themselves.
While people are living in the area, they often will have one child. When the second child comes, they begin considering buying a house in the suburbs of Odense. This means that we have many families with small children living just around the corner. We have practically no families with teenagers living in our neighborhood. So the question that rose from this clue from our bell tower is: What can we do to minister to these young families and their children?
Now our vision speaks about a church for children who are so thrilled about church that they bring their parents to church too. This led us to hire a children’s pastor who works very strategically to reach the children in the community. On a regular basis she gives services that are specifically aimed at children. Slowly we are beginning to see the fruit of her labor with the children.
I believe that an essential part of a pastor's leadership is reading the clues from inside and outside the church. It is important to see the changes in culture and to take them seriously when thinking about what the church is supposed to be like in the future. These times are calling for a church that says: "We are with you on this journey through life. We take God and people so seriously that we are prepared to do just about anything it takes to communicate a clear message of God’s love to you!"
Thomas Risager is pastor of the United Methodist Church in Odense, Denmark, and a Doctor of Ministry student in church leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary.
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