Ann Marie Carley

Making Sense of the Chaos

The Let’s Go Back to Egypt Committee

In my faith tradition, fall is the time that congregations and pastors make a decision to continue in ministry together or begin to search for something different. I know many colleagues who feel like Moses and Aaron as the Israelites told them in Numbers 14:4 “we should pick a new leader and go back to Egypt.” They are serving in churches that seem to be unhappy with anything they do. They are stretching themselves thin and trying to make everyone safe and happy at the same time. The concept sounds nice, but it is simply not possible in real life.

The Reality

The pandemic which has swept across our nation has uncovered a harsh reality for most established churches. A reality that may have been known before these events, but was rarely discussed or accurately understood. A reality that includes the fact that weekly worship attendance has been on the decline for decades. A reality that even with the best of intentions, established churches have sent a message of exclusion instead of inclusion to their community. A reality that shows our churches are just as divided as our culture.

These are all realities that I’ve known and seen and tried to lead through over the course of the last few years. I know many colleagues have done the same and even though our congregations may have made some great strides in understanding these realities it seems as though many are shell shocked by these realities as we begin to re-engage worship within the walls of our buildings again.

How Reality Went from Untraceable to Totally Uncovered

What I have come to realize is this, it is easy to ignore reality when you are in a space that feels safe and comfortable. When my congregation was able to worship in our sanctuary and had unlimited seating capacity because it still felt like “everyone” was there even if they weren’t. It was easier to remember the good old days when they were able to gather for meals and study in a space that had been built by them than to see how what they had been doing for decades no longer produced the same results and may even seem excluding those they had intended to reach. It was easier to avoid conversation which may bring about conflict than to discuss things in a safe way that would allow everyone to grow.

It was easier to remember the good old days when they were able to gather for meals and study in a space that had been built by them than to see how what they had been doing for decades no longer produced the same results... Click To Tweet

As churches re-enter their buildings, things seem less safe and it is much harder to ignore reality. There is no way to not see the roped off pews or the empty seats. Those coming to worship onsite can look around and see “everyone” is not there. There is no way to safely engage in all of the activities from the good old days, making it painfully obvious that if new ways of connecting with people are not determined, the current generation occupying the space within the church may be the last. A quick scroll through social media uncovers the fact that even decisions churches have made in regards to worship have found us divided.

How to Fill up Your Tank for Future Ministry

If I had a dollar for every time I have heard, “I can’t wait till we get back to normal” I wouldn’t need to worry about how to fund ministry in the coming year. The problem with that statement within churches is that the normal people most often want to get back to did not even exist in January of 2020. It is a normal they are remembering from the middle of the last century. It seems as though the church has idolized the past for so long that they have been unwilling to look at their present reality or even dream of a future that may be different.

If I had a dollar for every time I have heard, “I can’t wait till we get back to normal” ... The problem with that statement within churches is that the normal people most often want to get back to did not even exist in January 2020. Click To Tweet

This is the same problem Moses and Aaron faced with the Israelites. The Israelites wanted to turn around and go back to Egypt. They were tired. They were remembering the past and they had lost sight of the future God promised them. I’m sure Moses and Aaron were tired as well, but going back to Egypt wasn’t a part of their plan because it wasn’t a part of God’s plan.

As leaders today, going back to the past shouldn’t be a part of our plan either.

The road ahead of us is not easy, but we must continue to fill our tank for whatever may be next. Enrolling and engaging in this Resilient Church Academies Contextual Intelligence track is a way to not just learn something new, but refuel your tank. A way to remember you’re not alone and there are other people leading through all of this. A way to see how God is still at work. And if you’re facing a Going Back to Egypt Committee, it just might be how God is preparing you for your next because that is how real life works.

There will always be a next and God will always be preparing you for it!

Ann Marie Carley

Ann Marie Carley

As a UMC Deacon Ann Marie’s ministry focus is helping churches walk through sacred change. She is currently living out this call by serving as the Executive Pastor (and overseeing Fresh Expressions) at Trinity Church in Chillicothe, Ohio. She and her husband are passionate about sharing Jesus, cycling, cycling to tacos and exploring new ways to connect with others.

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