Vol 4:11 Mission and Leading Christ’s Community – Part 7: Surprised by Resurrection

It is obvious that resurrection was a surprise to the disciples – obvious because their response was one of bewilderment and fear, even though Jesus had shared with them that he would rise in three days. Mark’s Gospel ends with the women, who discovered the empty tomb and encountered the angelic messenger, “trembling and bewildered” fleeing the tomb and saying nothing to anyone because they were afraid (cf. Mark 16:8).

God is always surprising us – with resurrection, with the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost, with new creation taking root in response to God being in mission.

How do we respond to being surprised by God? How do we exercise our gift for leading when God surprises us?

In one sense we are surprised by God and the acts of God because we do not expect them – or do not understand them. Much of what we want to do in leading the church of Christ, in forming followers has little to do with being surprised, rather has much to do with our being in control, giving shape to the ministry, planning for future outcomes, knowing where we are headed. And in all such leading we are capable of hiding God’s surprises and God’s surprising nature behind our attempts at leading.

However, if we are surprised by resurrection, surprised by the Spirit, and surprised by numerous other encounters with God, then how does that reframe the way we think about and enact our way of leading?

Leading in the way of the Spirit, I believe, has more to do with being on the watch for God’s surprising character is being revealed in the world. God is active in the world; God is active in every human being – and so the way we lead needs to be on the lookout for the ever-surprising presence of God.

How might we go about leading in this way?

  1. Lead with an awareness that God is always active. Lead being on the lookout for where God is showing up – especially in the unsuspected places.
  2. Discern where the Spirit is moving – my guess is that is where the surprises of God are about to appear.
  3. Discern how the Spirit is moving. Be open to witnessing the activity of God in every person’s life – within our churches and communities, within our neighborhoods. It is in listening to people’s stories, hearing their questions, noticing their longings, in being open to the surprising presence of God, we will be able not only to see God’s presence, but help make these same people aware of God at work in them.
  4. Respond to the Spirit’s overtures, the Spirit’s leading (it is the Spirit who is actually leading) of the faith community. In realizing that God is at work in every human being, and in realizing the Spirit guides us to grow in our awareness of God’s activity in the world, and that the vision we are to see is being cast by the Spirit – be open to move, to speak, to act in ways the Spirit is leading. Allow the Spirit to set the agenda for ministry, for providing direction and insight as to how the community is to be engaged in the mission of God.

In the community I serve, we have functionally set aside setting of goals and making strategic plans. We have been developing discerning what the Spirit is doing among us – and figuring out how to courageously follow the Spirit’s lead – wherever the Spirit is blowing. In doing so, we are discovering that we are continually being surprised by God – entering into ministries, relating to persons we would never have planned to engage. But in being open to the Spirit, we are being guided on an adventure in which God is making all things new – surprising us and surprising those who are being re-created. In receiving everyone whom the Spirit brings through our doors as ones whom God is bringing to us, we are discovering how God is shaping us as an Anabaptist community. Leading in this context has very little to do with control and everything to do with being open to pointing out where the Spirit of God is leading us, surprising us.

So, this Easter, may we not only be surprised by resurrection, but may we be surprised by the Spirit who leads us in ways that enable us to participate with God in God’s redemptive and re-creating mission.

I find that I lead best when I am not in charge, but when I am pointing out what the Spirit is doing among us, where the Spirit is leading us, so that we might be encouraged and challenged to follow.

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