Dwell in possibility

Posted Jun 13, 2013 | Pastoral Excellence Network

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By Lawrence Peers


Larry PeersAnyone of us can feel despairing at times about how the church or church leaders can possibly respond to the pressing challenges and the emerging opportunities of our time. At a recent Pastoral Excellence Network event in Columbus with 70 pastors, we talked about how easy it is to move to the place of resignation and murmur, “There is nothing we can do, so why even try.” Or, we can live out a stance of resentment and continually make complaints such as, “Society doesn’t respect Sunday morning anymore.” Among clergy and other church leaders, these voices of resignation or resentment easily echo among us. When the voices of resignation and resentment do take over, they also limit the landscape before us.

One vital role of clergy peer groups is to help clergy stand together in the midst of whatever particular or common challenges that we currently experience. Even though there may be, at times, tendencies to reinforce one another’s resentments and resignations, another stance often emerges: resolution. When clergy speak honestly about their challenges, when clergy compose together some next steps, when they help a colleague see another possibility, or when they learn from one another’s creative responses or hard-won adaptations, they are cultivating resolution.

The poet, Emily Dickinson, referenced her own stance as a poet in these verses:

I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –

Likewise, we need to be ever mindful of the stance that we take as we compose our own ministries and help one another in clergy groups.

Individual or clergy group reflections:

As many of us are concluding a “church year,” this can be an opportunity to look back in order to look forward. Perhaps the questions below can help you individually or within a clergy peer group to reflect upon and compose your own stance:

  1. When you look through the “windows” of your own ministry and you look out at the world, what challenges you and also calls you?
  2. What are some of the “doors” that are wanting to open so that you or others can create new possibilities?
  3. Where do you most often dwell: resentment, resignation, or resolution? What shifts in your perspective or practices can open rather than limit the landscape before you?
  4. What would it look like for you to “dwell in possibility?”

Margaret Wheatley could be a patron saint of clergy peer support groups! As the author of the book, Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future, she offers her own stance of resolution. In the face of challenge she has learned to move beyond the question, “What’s the problem?” and to ask instead two very different questions: "What's possible here?" and "Who cares?" These questions can bring about unprecedented creativity within a group. Together we must organize and support resourceful and supportive communities of practice for new and seasoned clergy, as we lean forward into a church whose future we cannot yet fully see or imagine.

Lawrence Peers is the director of learning of the Pastoral Excellence Network at Christian Theological Seminary.

The Pastoral Excellence Network at CTS seeks to connect and nurture groups for clergy at all stages of ministry. To request permission to repost this content, please contact wsordillo@cts.edu.

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