By Karen Yee
When I was in the 4th grade I got the news…. “You can’t see–you need glasses.” That moment changed everything. From that day on I never went without my glasses, though there was a very brief period during college when I tried doing the contacts thing. When I realized that I couldn’t get the contacts in or out of my eyes without my optometrist friend helping me, I figured they just weren’t for me. If I wanted to see, I would have to wear my glasses.
Wisdom and ministry has shown me, however, that I need more than my glasses to see how to handle the adaptive challenges that all of us are facing today in ministry. Adaptive challenges are challenges that we are facing for which we do not presently have an answer, but must be addressed if we are to live into the future God has for us. Again, these are challenges for which we don’t have the answer. There are things that we do know and just need to fix or change: those types of challenges are called technical challenges. Technical challenges are those problems that we know how to fix ourselves. They might not be easy to solve but they can be solved, and we know the answer or the way to do that using familiar tools. But adaptive challenges are different. For adaptive challenges, we’re in new and unfamiliar territory in which our traditional tools and “go-to solutions” just don’t seem to work. For adaptive challenges, we don’t have the answer. But we do know who does: God. Yup, God knows. God desires to help us, to lead us, to equip us to discover how God is already at work in that challenge; God is inviting us to join in.
But here’s the catch. We need to try to see, and that seeing involves so much more than a pair of glasses. It means we need to begin to see with the eyes of our hearts. “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,” (Ephesians 1:17-18). It means we need to slow down and see and listen to what the Spirit is doing among us and through us. It means allowing the Spirit to transform us. American Baptists are embarking on a journey to listen, to see with the eyes of our heart what God is doing, and following God’s lead into our future.
If you have ever been to an American Baptist Churches USA Mission Summit (formerly known as Biennials), and have participated in the conversations around tables about various topics, then you have taken part in the ABCUSA Transformed by the Spirit initiative. Transformed by the Spirit involves learning to listen to God and others about what God is already up to. If you have ever gone to a Rhythm of the Spirit conference, then you have been part of Transformed by the Spirit, as you learn how to be still and know, be still and listen, be still and see what God is doing in your life. The leaders of our denomination are being Transformed by the Spirit when they gather at “The Mission Table” to discern what God is doing and where we should be working. At the last Mission Table in 2015 seven priorities were discerned, as follows: Next Generation of Leaders, Violence, Discipleship, Poverty, Gospel in a Rapidly Changing Society, Women in Ministry, and Innovative Models for Pastoral Ministry. Some of our regions and churches are going through a process named “Joining God in the Neighborhood” to discover what God is doing around in their neighborhoods and then joining God in that work.
The leaders of our American Baptist Women’s Ministries have participated in Transformed by the Spirit as they joined an “ACT – Adaptive Challenge Team” and went through a process to discern the future of the ministry in light of the changing environments we are all facing as American Baptist women. Through the process, the AB Women’s Ministries ACT team discovered that the challenge wasn’t what they thought when they began—in fact it was completely different than the challenge statement they began with—but by the end, they knew that the Spirit was leading them to be about transformation, drawing women and girls into transforming relationships with Christ, with one another, and with the world.
Together as AB Women’s Ministries and as the American Baptist family, we are learning to see, learning to listen with the eyes of our heart. We know the future is bright because God is in control and God is leading us. We just need to pay attention.
Rev. Karen Yee serves as associate pastor of New Life Christian Fellowship in Castor Valley, California, and the English-speaking pastor at the lu-Mienh Friendship Baptist Church in Richmond, California. In 2014-2015, she was coach for the AB Women’s Ministries Adaptive Challenge Team.
For more information about the ABCUSA Transformed by the Spirit initiative, click here.
AB Women’s Ministries three-year initiative, “Living out Our Cultural Reality into God’s Intentional Desire” with consultant Rev. Dr. Trinette McCray, stems from work done with the Transformed by the Spirit initiative in AB Women’s Ministries.
AB Women’s Ministries 2015-2017 ministry focus “See…” provides an excellent framework for discerning God’s vision for our ministries.
To learn more about adaptive challenges, read Leadership without Easy Answers by Ronald Heiftez (Harvard University Press, 1998). Using this Amazon link helps support AB Women’s Ministries–thank you!