Reimagining Church

Thriving Congregations Initiative: New Models for the 21st Century

Learning to Embrace Uncertainty

By Sarah Neumann

If you could ask God to grant us, the church, anything, what would it be? Would you ask for financial security, to erase any debts and provide enough money to enable us to do whatever ministry we wanted? Would you want a brand new building, beautiful and free from leaks and drafts? Would you ask for the courage to make hard decisions and to be bold as we seek to live like Jesus and follow his teachings? Would you pray for wisdom to interpret Scripture and know exactly what to do in any given situation?

All of those sound pretty good to me, but my own prayer lately has been that God will grant the church an increased ability to tolerate uncertainty. Human beings HATE uncertainty. Most of us work very hard to avoid it, in fact: we make plans to try to get a handle on the future. We establish daily routines that become familiar, even rote. We save money where we can, in case of a financial emergency. There’s certainly nothing wrong with any of these things. But like anything else, uncertainty is a muscle that needs to be exercised. When we don’t practice it, when in fact we eliminate as many opportunities as possible TO practice it, it starts to atrophy.

To be a Christian in 21st century America is to have plenty of opportunities to practice tolerating uncertainty. We are in the midst of navigating a huge shift in what it means to be religious, to be Christian. I want to reframe what we usually hear called the “decline of Christianity” or “churchgoing” as instead a liberation. A liberation of Christianity, and Christians, from the unholy alliance that we had made with power and empire, an alliance that kept us bound to upholding the status quo more so than living out the Gospel. But even the dawn of a hopeful new day is still new, still unknown, still uncertain.

No matter what else changes, Jesus is absolutely uncompromising about his insistence that we are to love one another. “This is my commandment,” he says, “that you love one another as I have loved you.” We find stability in the consistency with which we see him, throughout the Gospels, going to exceptional lengths to demonstrate that love for others and then reminding us that this is the exact same behavior that he asks, expects, from us. Jesus calls us to a life of love, which means that he calls us to a life of uncertainty.

Be comforted, friends, that church is a group project. Sometimes we have different ideas about how it should go. Sometimes we get frustrated with each other when it feels like we’re doing more than our fair share. But the gift of being in this together is that none of us has either absolute power OR absolute responsibility. We share all of it with one another. We share the work of being Christians, of living our faith in community. And Christ shares in it as well. Whatever happens in the future, whatever challenges and joys and uncertainties come through the doors of the Church of the Holy Trinity in the years to come, hold tight to one another and to God. This is my prayer for you, today and always. Amen.

Image | Jakob Owens on Unsplash