When we think about the fall, and the return to the church “program year,” ministry “gravity” pulls us to plan more—more programs, events, small groups, and activities for youth and families. More and more and more. Most church leaders I know, and most families, don’t have much room for “more” in an already busy schedule. And yet, they do long for more connection, more peace, and more rest. What if we took a different approach to our fall “kickoff” and, instead of filing space, created space in ministry?
I’m thinking back to my first youth ministry gig. The congregation expected me to reboot the youth program with trips, youth nights, fellowship events, Bible studies, you name it… Parents wanted me to re-create their youth group experience from the 70s. But when I met the core group of youth in the congregation, they were all over-scheduled, overbooked, and overwhelmed. They didn’t have room in their week for one more thing. And so, instead of a program, we created a contemplative gathering. I introduced them to Taizé prayer and silence, and they loved it. It was one of the few times in their week that they could simply rest in God, reflect on their lives, and be in community. Their relationships with one another, and with God, grew immensely.
So, how might you go about creating space in ministry? For contemplation, prayer, and rest in your congregation this fall? And how can you do it without making it just “one more thing” on your schedule that you try to recruit others to?
Here’s some ideas to get you started:
- In prayer, reflect deeply on what you need in your spiritual life. What kind of gathering could you create that would be life-giving for you? What practice might give you more energy than it costs to plan and host? What’s something you would do even if nobody else showed up?
- Start having conversations with others inside and outside of your congregation about their spiritual needs. What’s missing for them? What do they long to be part of? What might recharge them and give them life?
- Look to the spiritual traditions of your denomination (or others) for resources. While contemplative prayer may seem like a “new fad,” in fact it has deep roots in Christian history, and in most other faiths as well. And it generally isn’t complicated.
- Test ideas out with others. Find a simple practice and invite a few others to try for a limited time period–say once a week for four weeks. Maybe you gather before worship on Sunday for a 15-minute period of silence. Maybe a few of you go for a silent prayer walk on a Saturday morning. Maybe you create a space for gathering over Zoom.
- Invite the budding group to propose a different practice to try, and continue to experiment. Encourage open conversation and reflection among participants so they can shape the practice together, and adapt it over time. Encourage them to talk to others about their spiritual longings and invite them to be part of the process too.
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Rev. Erik Samuelson is a leadership and transformation coach who works with individuals, teams, congregations, judicatories, non-profits, and educational institutions. His wider work is in the areas of vocational discernment, spiritual formation, organizational innovation and change, leadership development, and alternative theological education. He also works as a member of the Vibrant Faith Coaching Team/Coaching School Faculty