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Finding a way out of the desert

Road through the desert

When experiencing a desert season, how do you move forward and find God’s presence and guidance? John Seppanen, Heritage District Lay Leader, shares some thoughts that have helped him out of dry times.

Heritage District Lay Leader

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1, NIV)

Do you find yourself wandering in what seems like a desert? Perhaps you look around your church on a Sunday morning and think you are experiencing a dry season. Maybe you are unsure about an upcoming pastoral change, discussions on potential disaffiliation, staying, what the impact of fewer districts will be, or the impacts of reduced conference staffing. No doubt, all of us can identify something that is different from what we would like it to be. So, if you or your church are experiencing a desert season, let me share some thoughts that have helped me out of dry times.

The first step usually involves taking time to reflect. Merriam-Webster offers one definition of “reflect” as “to think quietly and calmly.” I am an introvert, so this definition works for me. You may be more extroverted, and your time of reflection might be out loud and involve many people. Do what works! I suspect that while Jesus was in the desert for 40 days, he had plenty of time to reflect. The time you need might be shorter, or it might be longer for more significant dry spells. Prayer should be central, as I’m sure Jesus prioritized during his reflection time. No better resource than to lay everything before our loving Savior in prayer. Another tool I find helpful while spending time reflecting is one I learned while problem solving. It’s called the “5 Whys.” Maybe you ask yourself: Why am I struggling right now? Or why do we not have more people attending church? You offer up your first why answer. But don’t stop at one! Probe your initial responses with follow-up whys. Typically, when you drill down through the “5 Whys,” a crystalized idea of what is occurring will become evident.

The second step is to ideate. Again, from Merriam-Webster, “ideate” is “to form an idea.” This is usually where you identify some potential solutions to what you are experiencing. Too often, I jump immediately to this before I have spent sufficient time reflecting on what is happening. Perhaps that is why Jesus spent 40 days in the desert. Then the ideas he was offered (tempted with) came from the devil. Why wouldn’t he want food, he knew God would protect him from harm, and finally, he could have the whole world if he worshiped the devil. Be sure to leverage good, solid resources when you ideate. If it is a personal matter, seek help from a professional, trusted friends, or family members. If it pertains to your church, tools like MissionInsite are great. Maybe just walking around the neighborhood that surrounds your church will spark ideas. How about stopping by the elementary school or hospital in the area and asking what their greatest need is? As ideas are identified, hope should arise.

I find coming up with ideas fun, but at some point, to move on, you need to progress to the third step—action! I am a perfectionist, so one of my struggles is wanting to find the perfect idea or getting stuck in trying to analyze every possibility. This hinders accomplishment. Merriam-Webster succinctly nails “action” as “the accomplishment of a thing usually over a period of time, in stages, or with the possibility of repetition.” Note how well Jesus personified this after being tempted and rebuking the devil. He began his years of ministry! After assessing the merits of the ideas, decide which one you desire to take action on and then start. Will everything be successful? Will suddenly two new families walk through the church door, or your personal life improve overnight? Maybe, maybe not. The good thing is that you are doing something.

So, if you find yourself or your church in a desert, perhaps these words—reflect, ideate, and action—will help move you forward. Just remember that as Jesus’ ministry was doing miraculous things, not everyone was overjoyed or in favor of his actions. If you have spent adequate time reflecting, involving the right people, ideating so you have several good ideas to choose from, and then putting them into action, the chances are great that progress will result. If you should need to start over, take what you have learned and know that is okay. My prayer is that by using these words and leaning on God’s help, we will find a way out of the desert.

Last Updated on January 30, 2024

The Michigan Conference