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Is Zion a Healthy Congregation?

by Pastor Kari Bahe
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It’s not so much that we are afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it’s that place in between that we fear. It’s like being between two trapezes.  It’s Linus when his blanket is in the dryer.  There’s nothing to hold on to.
~Marilyn Ferguson, American Futurist

Zion has been through a great deal of change, and one might expect to encounter all sorts of ‘unhealth’ because of that.  Zion, however, continues to be a welcoming community with healthy ministries and an abundant hope. Zion has strong, healthy programs and a strong, healthy worship life.  No congregation is completely healthy. Congregations are, after all, made up of forgiven sinners, so there is always some ‘unhealth’ to be expected in each congregation. Interim periods give congregations time to intentionally look at the health of the system and address areas of concern as well as celebrate areas of strength.

You are a congregation that serves with strength of purpose and commitment. It is easy to see that the people of Zion have a deep love for ministry. Zion is blessed to have strong, committed key leadership and staff in place. Zion also has a wonderful sense of humor, which is an indicator of great health—you laugh together! That is meaningful. You also cry together, and serve together and most importantly, you seek God together.

What Next?

There is one great flaw in the quote above by Marilyn Ferguson. It may seem as if there is nothing to hold on to. But the reality is, we have God to hang on to. Even better:  we know God hangs on to us, tightly, constantly, and lovingly.

Zion is a congregation with a long history of relying on the constant promises of God. Throughout times of change, Zion has remained a force for good in the local and global community. Zion has a long-standing reputation of knowing what it means to be a people called by God to serve the neighbor. That is just one of the many blessings that makes this congregation so strong. Reliance on God and a firm commitment to serve with care for others is a constant for Zion. Which makes all the change you’ve seen in the last while manageable. Every congregation in the world has been forced to dramatically change in the past 18 months. Now, every congregation has a new reality and opportunity. The congregations that make a healthy transition will extend the reach of the Gospel message in new and creative ways.

So, How Do We Do This?

The transition will come about as we take time to pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit regarding the next chapter of Zion’s ministry. We collectively need to transition into this new future. We are in the process of collectively asking several questions about the future:  how can we be best situated to welcome the new senior pastor? what needs to change? what should stay the same? where is God guiding us? what needs does the community have? what is God’s preferred future for Zion? what is God’s dream for this congregation as you continue to serve the Gospel in this new chapter?

Why Don’t We Just Form the Call Committee and Start Interviewing?

A wise person once said that the healthiest of congregations will recognize that transition and change are two different things.  A change is something that happens to you.  A transition on the other hand is something that happens within you. For example, you get a new job that requires a relocation. The change is that you must move to Texas. The transition is that you are no longer living in Minnesota. Making the change requires packing and moving.  But the actual transition happens when you realize you can no longer go about your life in the same way you always have. To be sure, some things will be the same, but some things must change. For example, now that you live in Texas, you will no longer need to wear wool sweaters in January.

If you don’t make a transition, your change will just be the proverbial moving of the chairs. Which means if you keep wearing wool sweaters in January, you’ll be boiling hot in Texas! It is essential to take time to realize what transitions you need to make. Likewise, congregations are healthiest when they intentionally take time to transition into their next chapter.

Add to that reality a world-wide pandemic. Congregations have not seen this much change in ministry since the Reformation.   The shift in how people are attending and engaging in church means that we need to be even more intentional with transitions. Being open to the creative work of the Holy Spirit is an essential part of transition. Zion has adapted quickly and has made meaningful changes along the way. We will continue to do so, which may cause us to be even more expansive in understanding what ministry looks like in this new reality. I believe God is calling us all to something creative, bold, and expansive for the sake of the Gospel.

Because transition is a process by which people unplug from the old world and plug into a new world, we can see that transition begins with an ending and finishes with a beginning. And our God is all about taking what seems like an ending and transforming it into a beautiful new beginning. You have great opportunity before you as people of God. God has this all figured out and God is in control. God is holding you lovingly into this new future!


Pastor Kari Bahe

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