So Much for our Plans
In most churches Summer is a time of planning for the Fall and beyond. In my church community we spend late Spring and early Summer evaluating the past year. We try to pay attention to what the Spirit has been telling us in our life together. Where is the energy? Are there ministries that are losing steam and does that mean that their time has come to an end? Are there glimpses of new ministries and directions that are calling for increased attention? At the end of the day the staff and leaders develop a plan for the coming year based on the assumption that we have a sense of what God is up to.
Perhaps the greatest danger in this planning process is the assumption that because we have gone through this prayerful and thoughtful process we are definitely on the right track and our plan is the plan. We began the planning process by being open to the movement of the Spirit, but now at the end of this process we assume that we know exactly where the Spirit is going. We have forgotten Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, “The wind (spirit) blows where it chooses, and you hear sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes (Jn. 3:8).
“You do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” How unnerving is that? Unnerving because it reminds us we are not in control of this relationship with God, no matter how thoughtful and prayerful we are. Unnerving because it reminds us that we cannot reduce the faith journey to a plan, let alone a plan that we know is in sync with Spirit of God. I am not suggesting that churches don’t need to make plans. I am suggesting that we need to hold them lightly and acknowledge that where we thought we were going may not be where God ends up taking us.
For example, a few years ago when our Whiz Kids tutoring program at Mercer Elementary turned into a Boys and Girls Club, and no longer required as many volunteer tutors, I was convinced that our tutors simply needed to find another childhood educational setting to offer their services. Listening to a presentation one day by a woman who coordinates a volunteer program with children, I thought I had found the perfect fit. I told her I had volunteers who could help her. She said, “No. You need to talk with Kim Montgomery who works with English as Second Language children in the local school system. Their parents need an opportunity to develop their language skills.” Long story short: we started a program for adults to learn English through casual conversation. So much for my plan!
I was convinced that I knew the plan, but the Spirit was blowing in a different direction. Fortunately, unlike so many other examples from my life, I was willing to follow the Spirit’s lead. In all honesty, we need to acknowledge that we usually haven’t any idea where God is leading us. Thomas Merton put it this way in one of his prayers: “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore, will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
Maybe our daily mantra can be the acknowledgment that “We have no idea where we are going,” but that my desire to follow God’s way is enough, and that God will indeed lead us down “the right road even though we may know nothing about it.”