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October 8, 2014

Shift Two: From “Safety and Preservation To Risk Taking and Expansion”


Stay tuned to the ECO blog

This fall our Thursday blogs are focused on the five shifts we’ve identified as significant for living out the mission and vision of ECO. Every third Thursday, Dana Allin writes specifically about one of these shifts, and then the following two Thursdays we hear from people within the ECO community who are living out that particular shift in their local contexts. Read more about Shift One here.

Shift #2: From “Safety and Preservation To Risk Taking and Expansion”

It’s common for leaders in the discernment process to make the following statement to their congregations,

“In order to stay the same, we have to change.”

The implication of this statement is the congregation wants to remain who it is theologically, and in order to do that, they need to change denominations and move to ECO. While this statement is certainly true on one level, it can also be counter productive to the mission God has called us to as a Church and as a network of churches.

The reality is, that while we want to stay the same theologically, we actually want to become different. We want to become even more of whom God has called us to be. We want to use the fact that we are in a safe place theologically to become more risk taking. We want to be more aggressive for the kingdom! Risk taking is modeled in the ministry of Jesus. For example, in the resurrection accounts of Jesus, He is first providing safety, comfort, and peace. But shortly after He gives that comfort, He calls people to go. Jesus never calls us to an easy and safe life. In fact, He tells us that we will lose our lives, we will be persecuted, and the world will hate us. Sounds great, right?

The temptation is, however, to make decisions out of fear or based upon safety and preservation of the status quo. For example, we might know that the best thing to facilitate our congregation reaching the community is to change worship styles. However, we do nothing because we fear the pushback we will get from stakeholders in the congregation. We may know that someone on staff is not the right fit, but we do nothing for fear that if we let him or her go, his or her supporters in the congregation will rebel. We know we should plant churches to spread the gospel, but we don’t because we would have to send out people, and we want to persevere our church.

This isn’t to say that we aren’t careful and prayerful to make sure we make these difficult, but important shifts in a way that can minimize difficulty and pain. But if we simply fail to make the necessary decisions and movements out of fear, then we have abdicated the leadership role to which God has placed us.

A question for us all

In talking with John Ortberg and others at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church about how they changed their by-laws when they came into ECO, they shared that their driving question was,

“How can we organize and make decisions to optimize success, rather than to organize to prevent failure?”

What a great question for all of our churches! It’s also a great question for our presbyteries. The presbytery is vital to creating an environment that’s supportive and encouraging to pastors and leaders who are facilitating the shift toward risk taking and expansion. We know these leaders will receive pushback. Sometimes the presbytery will receive complaints. It’s important for the presbytery to help evaluate the situation and as needed, provide the necessary support for the leaders to fulfill their roles.

Cause for reflection

Here are a few questions to think about as you move toward risk taking and expansion:

  1. Where might God be calling you in your own discipleship to be more risk taking for His kingdom? Perhaps there are those who are not yet Christians with whom you need to initiate conversations. Perhaps you’re being called to be more generous toward others with finances and time, even when it threatens your safety.
  2. What are one or two things that need to happen in your church but you know will be met with resistance?
  3. If you are part of your presbytery, how can your presbytery better create an environment to foster risk taking and expansion for the kingdom?

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Dana Allin

Rev. Dr. Dana Allin is the Synod Executive for ECO. He previously served as ECO President before accepting the call to be Synod Executive. Dana's passion to encourage and inspire leaders have led him to develop both the Missional Leader Training program and the Coach Certification Process.

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Dana Allin

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