Holy Uncertainty
Why worship and terror are leadership bedmates

As a kind of liturgy, I stand before our five-year-old church every September and ask a question: "Should we continue to exist as a church for another year?" You can hear pins drop every time.

The entire community—new comers, old comers, elders, parents—are always caught off guard by my question. Surveying the faces, I can see their intuitive responses. I enjoy the awkwardness. They think that something tragic has happened. Is he quitting? Is he rejecting the Trinity? Is there some glaring moral failure we're about to hear?

Of course the answers are always no. But it's that immediate, guttural reaction of uncertainty that I'm after; even if for a moment everyone imagines worst-case scenarios. For me, there's intention and rationale behind simply asking the "should we?" question about our future.

As the pastor, I never want to assume that we should keep our ministry going just to keep it going. I desire Jesus to breathe freshly into us each year. Now, I certainly hope that our folks affirm our existence. I hope that they say yes, we should continue for another year. But it appeals to me to ask if God wants the same thing.

No ministry is permanent. It strikes me that not a single church St. Paul planted claims to be in existence to this day. Even the best churches with the best church planters will eventually close their doors. God is eternal, not his local churches.

Pushing further, I don't think it's unfair to suggest that there are a great number of churches now open that ought to shut down. Likewise, there are many churches that are closed that should not have given up.

Because no ministry is permanent, it's our job to discern if we're to continue for a year in, year out basis. That's why I ask the question. Every year. That deer-in-the-headlights look in the unbelieving eyes of the congregation is, quite honestly, priceless. Instagram priceless.

Being honest, I relish the momentary panic. But not just because of the wide eyes.

Marketing certainty

I relish it because I believe that leadership is about creating holy uncertainty. Often leaders' relationships with uncertainty come only at times when life forces them to abandon the sure. But in my view, holy uncertainty is too important to leave only to come out in unplanned circumstances.

I know that some pastors will protest here, and in some sense I agree with them. Yes, a leader's job is to lead. "Just leading," creates a problem though. Today's leaders are in the business of leading people in uncertain times. People are more scared than at any time in recent memory. As a result, many of us assume that a necessary requirement for good leadership is certainty in all things. We try to reassure people—and ourselves—that we know the future, we know the right answers, and we know the right path forward. And why not?

October 15, 2013

Displaying 1–5 of 5 comments

Tedd Holbrook

November 11, 2013  4:36pm

I think I agree with whoever wrote the first post in that evaluating a current ministry should bring the question, "What changes can I be involved in to make it more God-honoring?". If the answer to, "Should we continue to exist as a church for another year?, is "no" then it probably doesn't mean the church should close down. It should mean that changes should be made. In some extreme cases the change may need to be the closing of the church. But with that should be a reasoning that doing so will further advance the kingdom because it is a step in the direction of doing greater things for Christ. More commonly change within the church can give the church reason to stay open another year. What this change looks like should be sought after.

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October 23, 2013  10:25am

Fantastic article! Praise God.

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Robert McCormick

October 20, 2013  10:11am

In the beginning of your article you mentioned that churches have shut down and even the churches planted by Paul are no longer in existence. My comment is clearly off your main point but I was pondering recently weather a church really "closes." If we consider a church to be a building then yes, they do close. But if we consider a church to be a group of people, we would see something different. When we see a church building close. Where did the people go? Many may have passed on due to old age but what of all the believer's influenced by that church. What about the believers who came from that church to join another group of believers in another building? My point is that the church is a living group of people not a building; more like a tree growing knew branches ever upward till Jesus returns. I agree with your main point however. I asked your very same question to two of my founding members today. Deers with headlights, red faces, but with a clear determination to go on; even without me if that should happen.

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October 19, 2013  10:35am

This, here! This sentence is loaded with nuance, truth, and guidance... "God's revelation was ominously veiled in a total lack of specificity..." The only thing I would add is a present tense into the statement... "God's revelation wasand isominously veiled in a total lack of specificity..." Quite definitely one of the most powerful statements I've read about G-d.

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October 17, 2013  10:57pm

"Should this ministry continue?" I have found myself asking those questions of myself, or variations thereof, many times. And maybe that is one of the reasons I take issue with the question. When I find myself asking these questions, it is often during a season of crisis, or dryness. Sometimes it is a time God has used to teach me more about myself, and Himself, to stretch my faith, to strengthen relationships. I think sometimes the questions come along with many other questions, as yet another variety of doubt, something that seems to confuse or isolate me. Sometimes, for me, trusting in God means not asking the question (or at least, trying to overlook it). God cares about the community. If He has me in it for the long-haul, the question might be irrelevant...the question might be none of my business. Maybe the sorts of questions I should be asking are things like "is this ministry glorifying to God?" (and what do I mean by that). "What changes can I be involved in to make it more God-honoring?" I am a lay-person, btw.

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