Yesterday, I asked my son if we could have a conversation about finances (o.k. it was asked as a rhetorical question as in – Can we have a conversation? Of course, we’re going to have a conversation). It wasn’t a strategic conversation – like, should we really spend our money on this or that. It was more of a tactical conversation – as in, we’re committed to tuition as you continue your second year at college, so we have to talk about how the finances/tuition payments are working for this year. Tactical conversations can be pretty easy because of the strategic direction – choose Calvin (his choice) and graduate in 4 years (my expectation) – have already been set. I imagine our conversation last night took all of 45 minutes completed around a couple of interruptions.
As I thought back two years, to Caleb’s late junior and early senior year in high school, I remember engaging in the strategic conversation about college. The one strategic conversation was really made up of many smaller conversations. What is God calling you to become? What colleges do you want to consider? How do financial packages (scholarships, etc.) fit into that decision? How much debt can you incur? These and other conversations didn’t happen overnight. They happened over a period of time. Sometimes, we had to stop because we were losing patience. Sometimes, we had to stop because we were tired. Sometimes we stopped because it felt like we were not getting anywhere. Sometimes his mom and he talked. Sometimes just we talked. But, we knew we had to have these ongoing conversations because an important strategic decision deadline was approaching.
Right now, the RCA feels a bit like my son’s late junior and early senior year in high school. A deadline for a strategic decision is coming. We all know it. There are lots of factors to be considered. Ultimately, we’ll have some input, but the official decision will be made by others than just us. We’ll all have to live into the choice. If I’m right about that feeling, then it’s also important for us, as leaders and congregations, to have the right kind of conversation. We probably need to have “many smaller conversations” in order to help understand and shape a strategic decision. We shouldn’t treat it like we’re facing a tactical decision and try to put it into a short 45-minute conversation built around other interruptions.
So, why am I reflecting on this today? Because, just like us a couple of years ago in our family, some of us are tired. Some of us are losing patience. Some of us feel like we’re in never-ending conversations that don’t go anywhere. Some of us just want it over with. Sound about right?
Here’s my word of encouragement. A strategic deadline is coming. A decision will be made. Please plan for times in your local leadership and congregations to have smaller/shorter conversations. Don’t treat this moment as a single tactical conversation that waits for the last moment. Get the information. Share the information. Talk about the options. There are resources to help you with these conversations. Zeeland Classis leadership is working to build some larger conversations spaces for us to talk. The Great Lakes Regional Synod is working to build some larger conversations spaces for us to talk. Take advantage of this support.
Also, be prepared to be tired and take a break. Be prepared to meet people who are frustrated by one more conversation. Be prepared for differing emotions. But, in the end, commit to having conversations. Start them. Pause them. Pick them up again. But, please have the conversations. It’s a moment of strategic direction that is worth the journey.