Sustaining Tension

Just a couple of years ago our church was in a financial situation that was forcing us to have some difficult conversations.  Giving had been trending down over the last few years, and money had been taken out of savings to make budget.  Now it was the time of year to create a budget for the next year.

There were two major philosophies at the table regarding how we should put that budget together.  One idea was to trust God would provide what we needed and to keep the budget the same.  This meant we would budget to take a third of what we had in savings out to make budget if things didn’t go as hoped.  The other philosophy was to cut budget enough to not have to take money out of savings.  As you can imagine, it was a spirited discussion.

We finally decided to trust God and budget to take the necessary money out of savings to maintain the budget as is.  Two years later it was evident this was the right decision as we have yet to take money out of savings and actually increased our budget last year.

But this post isn’t about how that happened.  This post is about where we find ourselves now.

Morale is high in the church.  People are excited about a new mission and vision statement presented last year.  Unity among members is greater than before.  Functionality of our leadership is higher.  Attendance is up.  Giving is up.  There is more ministry happening now than there has been in a long time.  Honestly, things are going very well.

So well I feel I need to disturb the peace.

The situation with the budget created tension with church.  Tension equals energy.  And energy makes things move.  Without energy, nothing moves.  What our church leadership did well with the budget situation was direct the energy towards creativity and away from negativity.  We presented the congregation with two stories.  The first story was a story of decline and slow death.  Truthfully, it was the path we were on.  The second story was a story of change and growth.  It is the story everybody said they wanted for our church.  By very truthfully presenting the two stories that would define us, our leadership generated tension that energized people to be creative.  And that creativity led to new ministry.

Now, with all the good things happening that urgency we felt two years ago is waning.  In some regards it is reason to celebrate.  We can celebrate God’s goodness and provision.  We can rest in knowing God is moving in our midst.  But I can sense a coming complacency.

If tension is necessary for energy, then a lack of tension results in a lack of energy.  And without energy nothing moves.  Another way to say this, “if there is no vision the people perish.”  My role as leader is to sustain the creativity and energy we have generated in the last two years.  But how do I sustain it?  It is simple, by creating more tension.  This does not need to happen through a crisis (and I really hope I am not creating that!), but can happen by constantly holding up before us the call God has put on us as a people and as a congregation to make disciples of Jesus Christ who impact the world.  For all the good things happening, we have to admit we aren’t there yet.  Nor will we ever be.

I realize this takes courage.  It takes courage to purposefully create tension.  It takes courage to intentionally rock the boat.  It takes courage to accurately and truthfully reflect current reality to people who may not want to see it.  For me personally, it takes courage because I have to face into my fears of failing, not being competent, and wanting to be liked.  If I don’t face these fears, then what I do will be dominated by me and not by God’s will for me.  What I mean by that is this; if my fears dominate what I do or don’t do, then what is driving my actions is not my pursuit of Christ, but my pursuit of protecting myself.  I’m serving me.  And if this is true, then I have to be honest and assume that even the good things I am trying to accomplish are done to serve me.  To make me look good.  Taking time to actively reflect on motivations, fears, and self-protections are essential to this process of creating tension.  So let’s be honest, generating and sustaining tension with in any organization is not for the faint of heart.  But we need to ask ourselves this, “Is the possible pain worth the possible gain?”

My answer is unequivocally, “Yes!”  People transformed by Christ, healed by him, restored by him, redeemed by him, and saved by him.  And the same for families and schools and communities and nations.  So yeah…its worth it.

So I am on the look out.  I’m actively looking for and thinking of ways I can create some tension.

And let’s be honest…this could be fun!


One thought on “Sustaining Tension

  1. Nate,

    Wonderful reflection here. thank you for being so open and authentic about where all this takes you.

    May you have much courage to create the tension, and much compassion to engage people who are caught in it.

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