Here are some insights various congregations learned about themselves when they each recently built a journey wall of their church.
“We respond well to challenges for finances or projects presented to us by committees. We respond less well when we first hear a challenge from the pastor. We tend to receive that as an agenda forced upon us.”
“When our backs are against the wall, we are willing to come together and change. When things begin to go better and we become more satisfied we tend to start resisting change.”
“We become anxious when some members voice complaints and in response or out of fear of potential complaints we shrink back periodically from moving forward.”
When a congregation builds a journey wall together, they begin to notice patterns that have repeated over their history. In those patterns they discover new insights that help them think more clearly about the future. Especially it helps them understand what might be going on when they meet a challenge. When I lead congregations in the journey wall experience, I love seeing the discoveries pop up, and the light bulbs go on.
The journey wall is a congregation wide experience in which the congregation posts their memories of positive and challenging experiences with the church, puts their story into chapters and then looks for repeated patterns across the life of the church. These patterns often give clarity re. what is the focus of the next chapter that God is calling this church to.
Something similar happens when people build a journey wall on their personal life. “I feel most alive when I am ministering in relationships, especially around issues of abuse and injustice.”
That is one discovery of a millennial church staff member whom I recently coached as she worked through the Charting Your Course experience. She wrote that as looked for recurring patterns in her own life journey wall. Since she is between jobs and seeking to discern what is her best next step, this insight became important to her. As a result my most recent assignment to her was to research online various Christian sex trafficking ministries and look on their websites at staff descriptions that seemed to fit her well in order to get a sense of the type of next ministry assignment that may be possible and closer to her personal best.
“Since childhood, I have often wished for more for and from the church I have been part of.” That recent discovery from my own journey wall has helped me realize why coaching congregations toward greater health has been such a wonderful fit for me.
I found this experience to be so helpful that I have co-written an experience called Charting Your Course which helps a person discover what may be God’s call on her/him for the next season. You can find it on Amazon. Just search for “Charting Your Course from Ascending Leaders.”
New direction most often comes from going back and looking at the ways God has been shaping you or your congregation. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Eph. 2:10. If God has already been preparing, shaping people and even churches for the unique work he has for them, then does it not make sense to mine what God has already done in order to see more clearly where he may be taking us and how we can better cooperate with him in a focused way?
This same approach could be helpful for classical renewal. What if we took the time to look at what God has uniquely done in a classis over its life? What if, instead of borrowing what another classis did for renewal or only reorganizing the committees or meetings of our classis (re-structure) for renewal, we took a look at what God has already been doing in and through our classis in order to discern what he might want to do in the next chapter? What have been the positive and challenging experiences especially of that classis? What have been the critical transition periods--after which life in that classis was clearly different from life before? What titles might we give each chapter based on what God seemed to be doing there? What patterns do we see repeating throughout the life of the classis? Based on all this, what possibilities for the focus of the next chapter of our classis life are there? If we could get focused around a direction that seemed to be from God what would it do to our vitality? Is it possible for a focused direction that is not based on her preferences, but rather is based on what God has already done in this classis outlast the transitions as pastors move in and out of a classis? I believe so.
An individual can work on their own life story board. A church is local and so people can come together to put together their collective memory. But how could a classis which meets just a few times a year and has pastors coming and going and elders and deacons rotating in and out of classis involvement begin to build a wall describing the journey God has had that classis on?
Here are some ideas:
- Contact digitally or by mail pastors who have served in that classis in the past inviting them to prayerfully consider and submit their memories of positive and challenging experiences of that classis while they were part of it.
- And/or gather together for several hours veterans of that classis—such as lay people who served as treasurer for a long time or clerk or on various classical committees. In a spirit of prayer, ask about their memories of positive and challenging classis situations. Add those to what came in from pastors. Ask this group to divide this into chapters.
- And/or two people read through all the old minutes of the classis and add anything in addition to what has already been gleaned to the list.
- For each of the churches in the classis, at least the pastor and anyone else in a church who has had classis-wide participation meet for a half day, receive a report of what has been discovered thus far and add any other events that they feel were missed. Then have the participants observe and log themes and patterns they are seeing.
- A small group of 6-8 people who are good at observing trends, at seeing subtle connections and at reflection look over the journey wall looking for more repeating patterns and trends. Then this group, based on the repeating patterns and the themes of the most recent chapter, suggest some potential directions of the next chapter.
- At another meeting of people from each church or even at a few smaller meetings of part of the classis, people process the potential directions, seeking to prayerfully discern one direction that God is bringing to the surface.
- At a classis-in-session meeting, the classis adopts that direction as what they believe God may want to do through this classis over the next decade, more or less.
- The committees and functionaries of the classis meet together to discern what initiatives over the next two years may be the best to pursue as a classis to have success in this direction and also pray and search for ways to work synergistically on these initiatives. This could include any committee adjustments to better make this happen.
- Again the classis adopt this at a meeting-in-session.
- At each classis meeting the committees report on their progress in working on these initiatives, pray over them and seek God’s direction for what they may need to adjust.
Could the journey wall be a helpful tool for classis renewal? If it can help congregations discern direction, then it can likely help a classis as well go through deep life-giving change and direction. It's also a way to refresh spiritual vitality, as the classis leaders are reminded of God's faithfulness in and through the history of the classis. I'd love to hear whether your classis would consider using this tool, and I'd love to hear some stories about how it worked out.