Reflections from Pastor Mark
“Comfort zones are plush lined coffins. When you stay in your plush lined coffins, you die.” – Stan Dale
Among the various roles I fill for the wider church is as a facilitator of a group of Interim Ministers. Most of those in my group are newish to interim ministry. I avail myself to the group between our monthly meetings for phone calls, emails, text messages or in-person meetings, as necessary, or for times they feel stuck. I usually hear from them when the latter occurs: they are feeling “stuck” in moving beyond a conflict; the leadership of the church they are serving can’t come to consensus on next steps; someone is resigning from a leadership position and the interim minister doesn’t know how to react. As you might imagine, there are lots of reasons interim ministers and congregations get stuck.
It’s like that in our personal lives, too. We get stuck in habitual routines and behaviors. We get stuck in relational difficulties. We get stuck financially. We get stuck with kids that make bad decisions. We feel stuck when parents become frail and we can’t see beyond a health scare. We get stuck because people don’t measure up to our expectations. This list is endless.
When people ask me about what they might do to get unstuck, whether a minister, a church, or someone who comes to me for counseling, I usually ask, “What have you done that is working for you?” Most often they reply, “Nothing is working. That’s why I’m stuck.”
Then, my most common reply is, “Let’s brainstorm about things you might do differently. What do you think is the most faithful thing you could do in this situation?”
Because people don’t often think in those terms, they are still stymied. Then I ask, “What are you afraid of in this situation?” This almost always provokes a response. And a majority of the time the response has something to do with fear of being hurt or hurting someone else. I understand that fear. No one likes to get hurt and few of us take pleasure in hurting others.
The fact is that we feel some discomfort every time we leave our comfort zones. And sometimes we can’t become unstuck without being hurt or hurting others. Parents know this. If some children had their way, they would never get out of bed. Parents have to make the kids uncomfortable by being assertive and sometimes aggressive, even if that’s not their default style. To do otherwise would allow the kids to be bums and would call into account the parents’ fitness.
In the church, we are beginning to ask different questions, try some new things, undo some of the “tried and true traditions” that are no longer bearing fruit, declare a specific mission God is calling us toward, and more. If we don’t do this, the church is going to be stuck where it is, which is fine if you want the same results you’ve been getting: stagnant growth, an overworked core of church leaders, and a sense of disappointment that all the work isn’t achieving greater outcomes. In order for us to be faithful to God and one another, we have to push a bit harder. That means we might become uncomfortable.
For a time such as this, Jesus has a formula: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-29).
In essence, Jesus is saying, “Give me your grudges, your fears, your misgivings, and your ‘We’ve never done it that way’ attitude. In return, I will make the work easier than you have imagined.”
It’s true. When we press on to do the faithful and more difficult things, God is with us. God takes what we thought would be daunting and eases our psycho-spiritual resistance to doing something new. That is, after all, why we resist change. It’s also why kids don’t want to get out of bed. It’s a lot of work to constantly be getting stuck and unstuck.
And so we press on … to the glory of God and our own fulfillment.