With General Conference weeks away emotions and anxiety are palpable. There are the conservatives and the progressives, both of which are fervently arguing their beliefs. Where does that leave those pastors and congregations who are middle of the road or able to
"agree-to-disagree" and move forward as is? They become the middle of the Oreo cookie and that can be a hard place to be.
So, how do pastors shepherd their herd through uncertain times full of turbulent emotion, palpable anxiety, and the potential threat of denominational schism as well as the fear that follows? Just as individuals have valleys to walk through, so do congregations.If we forget that God is with us during our walk through our darkest valleys, fear has room to creep in. However, if we are reminded in a loving, gentle way that God is with us in our walk, our fear subsides and our faith grows. It is important not to misunderstand the power of peaceful, steady, presence with people who may feel weak and scared as they walk through the deepest valleys in their lives.
Meeting someone (or a congregation) where they are, showing them support and solidarity by walking beside them without judgment or trying to change their direction, makes walking the valley possible. You as pastors have the power to do this on an individual or congregational level.
The first step is to find out where they are. Do this with active listening: listen, then paraphrase what you heard asking if you understood correctly. A lot of miscommunication happens here because humans aren’t always good at this. Then, leave your opinions and theological positions at the metaphorical door and focus on guiding those you are walking with to the best outcome for those people. The best outcome for one may not be the same outcome that is best for you personally, and that is okay.
The other critical piece while walking the dark valley with someone or a group is to remind them how much God loves them and is with them during this time of trial. “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will feel no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalms 23:4, NIV).