Whether we acknowledge it or not, churches are in transition, seeking to navigate through the wilderness brought on by the Pandemic. At the present moment, church bodies are seeking to refocus, to follow the Spirit’s lead in discerning afresh their missional identity in a new time, a changed world. Together we are moving through a wilderness. Fundamental pivots are needed, not just minor little technical changes.
The experience of the Israelite people helps us here. The wilderness experience was not necessarily a negative experience for the Israelites. It wasn’t a positive experience either. It was a very difficult experience. It was confusing, often disorganized, disruptive, sometimes frightening, bewildering, uncomfortable, unsettling. Yet the wilderness experience was one of the great formative experiences for the people of Israel. It shaped them for the future that lay before them. It helped them leave Egypt behind and look ahead. Even though they headed directly for the border of Canaan, they were much too weak, too confused, and too poorly organized to invade Canaan. So, they wandered in the wilderness, during which time they were shaped into a hardened, resilient, determined, well-organized wilderness people capable of invading Canaan.
Our churches are living today in a new era. In one way or another church communities have already left Egypt, recognizing we are living in a time in between times. Rather than bemoan the awful state of things, churches have a challenging and exciting opportunity before them. This time in history presents a pivotal moment in the life of the church. While at one level people “know” that changes are needed, at another level people find it difficult to let go of old presuppositions and structures. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, there are always those who want to return to Egypt. Going back to Egypt is the one option they did not have. It is true, there is often a “back to Egypt” (the old normal) committee resisting the thought of change.
Led by the Spirit, there are already many stories and ways people, families, communities, churches and other groups are finding their way through the Wilderness together. We will continue to find ways to reconnect with one another and with God in order to rediscover our shared purpose and meaning.
By Ray Schulte