The coronavirus has pushed churches into a liminal space. We didn’t ask to go there. We didn’t even want to go there. But we’re there.
You might be wondering, what’s a liminal space?
Simply put, it’s the time between “what was” and “what’s next.” Richard Rohr calls it “God’s waiting room,” explaining that it’s a “sacred space where the old world is able to fall apart, and a bigger world is revealed.”
Like it or not, we are presently in the Land of In-Between.
On a positive note, I see churches innovating like never before. The first step to leading change is to create a sense of urgency. It’s a step on which many church leaders stumble.
In the past, they’ve tried to convince their members to engage with social media, online giving, and other digital methods. But they resisted.
Now, the sense of urgency has been created. That’s why so many church leaders have been able to adjust more in the last few weeks than they have in the last few years. I think that’s a good and necessary thing. But leading in a liminal space is different than leading in a stable space. It calls for a different approach.
How to Lead in a Liminal Space
Susan Beaumont has written an excellent book about this topic called, How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going.
She insists that traditional leadership activities like vision casting, striving for growth, and advancing the mission are out of place in seasons of uncertainty. Instead, we should be focused on “helping people manage their anxiety, embrace the freedom of unknowing, [and] explore new possible identities and pathways” (p. 20).
Moses is an exemplary figure of liminal leadership. He led the Hebrews out of Egypt, wandered with them through the wilderness, and then set them up to flourish in the new land. Like Moses in the wilderness, Beaumont says, “We are liminal leaders, charged with taking the Church through this scary season of disorientation, disengagement, and disenchantment” (p. 21).
Signs of Life
As for me, I’m encouraged by the signs of life happening in youth ministries across the country. Maybe it’s because all of the regularly scheduled extra-curricular activities have been canceled, but many ministries are seeing more students involved and engaged with what they’re doing than before.
We should celebrate that!
We should also try to learn what we can in this season. I’m seeing a bigger emphasis on relational connections than I remember seeing in a while. That’s encouraging.
Now, I’m wondering what our ministries might look and feel like on the other side of all this. I’m curious to see where God is leading us, and hopeful that we’re leading people well in these difficult days.
When it comes to leading in a liminal space, your primary job is to be a stabilizing force in the midst of the chaos. People are rightly disoriented. Pastors are the ones who are called to speak with grace, truth, hope, and love in the middle of this situation. There’s no sense in fighting against reality. This situation simply is what it is. Help people process their confusion, pain, and loss, and look for signs of life that can emerge from all of this.