What can we do with discontentment?

What can we do with discontentment?

Our Synod’s Future Directions Vision is:

To become a contemporary, courageous, growing church

proclaiming Jesus Christ in worship, and witness in service.

This vision, with its focus on becoming and not just being, calls us into action.  But like any vision, all the plans and resourcing priorities are meaningless unless we believe that this vision is credible and is part of God’s call. The UCA inter-conciliar council discernment process would affirm that this is part of God’s discernment in my current Synod role, but also for all of us in Ministry, having an open and generous posture to engage this vision as our own is essential. 

Building consensus around vision requires vision casting and narrative sharing of how this vision is born from prayerful discernment (with Scripture in dialogue with reason, tradition, and experience) and how this can and shape our common life. The UME “our story” videos are an example of this.

One challenge that can emerge is that the individualist, as well as cultural and tribal critique, can “other the vision” (“just doesn’t feel like me/us”) too quickly if we are not careful. This is because anything different, that doesn’t align with our own biases, can feel wrong and will often cause a sense of discontent. This impulse is strong in all of us and is
reflected in the view, “if only we could go back to what was, then it will be alright, we don’t need to change”. The call for transformation guided by discerned vision is much more challenging and quite frankly hard work. It is engaging in discovery and possibilities, with skin in the game, making mistakes along the way, that can change us all as part of the ongoing story of God. But what do we do with the discontentment?

It needs to be said that critique and discontentment are not always about our own biases, asking the question, who does this vision benefit is always essential as part of the discernment and vision casting venture. The critique of colonisation, and the maintenance of domination systems at the expense of minorities, the poor and disenfranchised are Gospel discontentments as well.  So naming discontentment is always important.

A recent approach to navigating this space that I have found helpful in some of my ministry development coaching is to; deliberately name this critical discontentment, to bring it into dialogue with the vision, giving priority to the discerned vision, to navigate the next steps well. The next steps cannot be overwhelmed by the original discontent nor paralysed by it.  To commit to such next steps and engaging in this reflective action process can assist in the “becoming” nature of discerned vision growing into practice.

I am aware that for some, including myself at times, letting unhealthy discontentment be the vision can be not only counterproductive but can cause damage and harm to the flourishing of God’s people and work.  Now the Synod’s vision, like a Presbytery’s vision and a Congregation’s vision needs to be grounded in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Because it is Christ who we are disciples of participating in God’s Ministry and Mission.

In Exodus 3, God gives Moses a vision “Go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” Moses expresses discontentment
“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
God deepens the commitment to Moses with practical next steps and commitments, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have
sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” (NIV)

There are countless biblical examples of this vision casting of God, naming our discontentment, and discerning the next steps which led to transformation
as a gift of God. Many of us may do this intuitively, but next time you are in a tricky spot with discontentment, bring discerned vision back in dialogue and
creatively discern the next steps, as individuals, communities, councils, and committees.

This is something we all can do with Discontentment.

With peace and goodwill in Christ,

Rev. Ben Gilmour

 

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