The Boy Scouts of America lifted its ban on gay Scouts.
What struck me was not just the content of this decision (which is sure not to satisfy lots of folks,) but the process of that decision. As pastor of a congregation with nearly 200 people involved in our Scouting program, I was one of those 200,000 people surveyed about my opinion related to BSA policy in “the most comprehensive listening exercise in Scouting’s history,” according to BSA, as reported by the Associated Press.
The decision recommended to the 1,400 voting members was not supported by the majority of those surveyed. The decision recommended was supported by the majority of parents of young Scouts, as well as the youth members of Scouting. The Boy Scouts of America looked to their future leadership, rather than to their current leadership, to set the direction for the future.
And I wonder, how many congregations make decisions to fit the vision of the younger members? Many congregations, including where I have been a pastor, make their decisions based on the wishes of the more senior members. And yes, the folks, younger and older, seek God’s wisdom and direction. We just don’t always seem to hear the same thing from God! Often, what we think God wants pretty closely matches our own preferences.
Those with longer-standing in the congregation (and this is not always age-related) want newer members to take positions of leadership and do things the way “we’ve always done them.” New folks aren’t chosen for leadership to bring creativity and find new direction, but to simply put new energy into doing the same old things.
I am blessed to be pastor of a young congregation which has intentionally cultivated leadership from among varied members, so am grateful this is not an issue in my life right now. But colleagues and friends, and my own history, confirm that often, congregations are not making decisions that look far into the future. They are not listening to the voices of the younger or newer members, whose ears can hear God’s voice just as well as others of us.
How many congregations are willing to sort through the voices that they are hearing, not to just determine the majority, but to determine what voices are speaking and leading to the future?
I learned this lesson early.
When I was a young associate pastor, I was in a large congregation with new, young pastoral leadership and a lot of new, young members. A group of long-term members came to complain to the Session (governing board) about all the changes that were happening, including having a woman pastor on staff. The Clerk of Session, a wise, well-seasoned member of the congregation looked at them and said, “There are a lot of congregations here that haven’t done anything new in a long time. They are not going to do anything new for a long time. If you need to be in a place that doesn’t change, that might need to be where you go, and we would miss you. But we, as the leadership, are listening for God, and trying to follow the Spirit into OUR future, and we hope that you want to be part of it.”
I cowered in the corner, worried about the backlash. But the congregation moved forward, and grew. Most of those folks who were concerned got on board and enjoyed being part of a thriving congregation.
The Christian faith is based on things that happened in the past, sure, but it’s also based on what is happening in the present, and on leading us into the future. The Boy Scouts of America’s decision reminded me that we should not wait until the future leaders are in the decision-making mode to listen to them. We need to keep our eyes on the future, and listen to those who already live there.
The Rev. Dr. Joanne Sizoo is pastor at Grace Presbyterian Church in Fort Mill. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.