Church Development and Theory U: How Past Self and Future Self Meet

Without seeming to notice the small fires still burning around the property, [my grandfather] went up to my father, took his hand, and said “Kopf hoch, mein Junge, blick nach vorn!” “Keep your head up, my boy, look forward!” Then he turned, walked directly back to the waiting car, and left. A few days later he died quietly.

–from Theory U: Leading from the Future as it Emerges, by C. Otto Scharmer

Heritage is radioactive. It can power a city or it can blow up if you’re not careful. I love being a part of a denomination with a rich history. I often say that Methodism was born in the university but grew up in the prisons and orphanages of 18th century England. So I strive for a smart and active faith. I’m university educated and have even worked at an orphanage. Integrating theology and everyday life is the crux of my faith.

I have seen Jesus on the banks of the Monongahela, in the trailer parks of Green Valley and in the half-way houses of Wood County, WV. I know that Jesus is under the Morrison Bridge as I drive by. I know that Jesus eats dinner in my church twice a week. Yet, I struggle to integrate my faith and my work. I fall prey to mindless habits that don’t heal and behaviors that don’t reconcile.

So if Jesus is still says “follow me”, what do I do? It feels as if my daily schedule is not very Christian, even though I am a pastor. I’ve done good work and I’m seeing future possibilities. But it feels detached.

If the future Christ-follower in me is to emerge, I have to listen to that voice continuing to call me. I may have to let go of past leanings to make room for something new. But I fear giving up something vital to who I am. Then again, perhaps something even more vital is waiting to emerge.

I still believe that the United Methodist Church has something vital to offer. But I must confess that we are doing a poor job offering it. The momentum of habits, traditions, institutional trappings and personalities has been powering United Methodism for decades. It requires a colossal effort to turn such a large and stubborn ship. Even when leaders are being faithful to the direction God is calling us, there are a lot of stakeholders with many reasons to say no.

So here I sit, one of those leaders. I see Jesus. I see the church struggling, as I do, to find a way. I’m beginning to believe that the solution is easier than we are making it.

Note: I am reading Theory U: Leading from the Future as it Emerges by C. Otto Scharmer. It is an interesting philosophical take on leadership and group dynamics. I’m reading it with an eye on church.

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