One of the most challenging exercises involved a lifeboat. Half of the group agreed to play. There were 117 of us – all in some form of executive leadership who had come from across the U.S. and several countries at no small expense to sharpen our skills, practice collaboration, and play full out.
The facilitator asked for 60 volunteers. Having no idea what was to come next, several of us stepped into the middle of the dimly lit large conference hall. We were told that we were people on a sinking ship stuck in a sudden severe storm. We were 12 miles out from land. Waves were heaving at 10 feet. There was only one lifeboat that could hold 20 people and no flotation devices. Within 15 minutes, the ship would sink. We were told, “Your challenge is to fully engage as if this is actually happening and the consequences are real. You now know all you need to know. Go!”
To add drama to the exercise deafening sounds of a raging ocean storm filled the room. We gathered around a platform with 20 chairs. It was not long before the shouting began. Panic rose as the facilitator called out the time remaining. Nobody thought to pray.
What happened next during those 15 minutes, we had all agreed, would never be shared outside that room. By the end of the exercise, every chair was occupied – half with those whose heads were bowed, and the room was quiet except for the sound of weeping. As we debriefed the exercise over the next hour, those prepared to be honest learned as much about our characters as we did about leadership.
COVID19 and the resulting quarantines and economic impacts, protests following the death of George Floyd, and the brewing, ugly battle for votes and ideological loyalty have combined into elements of a dangerous storm which has already claimed many lives and exposed truths about ourselves, our community and the Church. We have shown up individually and corporately – not always as we wish we were but as we are.
This is a liminal time. We are transitioning into a future that we cannot yet clearly describe. Despite whatever nostalgia we hold about the past, our past, most of us cannot insulate ourselves from being fully present here and now. And during what for some is a very restless time, there is a blessing I pray that we do not miss.
You and I have been called to faith and servant-leadership at this historic time of discontinuous change. Dare we imagine ourselves in the company of Abraham and Sarah, Miriam and Moses, and those first disciples of Jesus? What does God see in you, in me, in the members of our congregation, in our neighbors, in those who cry out, that together we are entrusted with an opportunity to show up here and now more Christ-like and, God helping us, give more hopeful shape and substance to what will be?
I left that leadership workshop humbled by what I had learned, and it opened me to the need to continue working prayerfully on my character and skills. I returned to a Church that welcomed me back and reminded me of Jesus’ words to his own imperfect cast of characters who, nearly two thousand years ago launched a movement we call the Church:
“You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.” John 15:16 NRSV
We are right to hope. This present storm and its casualties are real. We may not feel ready, but we have been prepared. Our finest hours are yet ahead. Tomorrow’s disciples of Christ are watching. Go!