"Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are, quite naturally, impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages, we are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet, it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability . . . and that it may take a very long time."--Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
I am not a particularly patient person. From a family perspective, I came by it naturally and I have probably passed it on. Therefore, when I read these words I am confronted with the truth that some things take time to come to fruition and that period of time involved may be punctuated by turbulence. Passages are rarely as quick and easy as we would wish them to be. As my grandchildren often ask plaintively, “Are we there yet?”
Churches face this temptation to rush forward when a pastor leaves and to get a new person as soon as possible. Organizations are afraid to allow a possible vacuum in leadership to develop for fear that what momentum there is will be lost. We rush ahead without taking time to learn during the time of transition and to process that experience of moving from one way to thinking to another.
My friend Alan Roxburgh talks about a time of liminality—a threshold between what has been and what is to come. We assume that what is to come will be like what we have experienced before but we should not rush to that assumption. The liminal time is the nexus between what has been and what is to come. It is a place of learning, a place to hesitate, to process the turbulence, to learn from it, and then to move forward.
Although they may not wish to admit it, moderate Baptists in the South are going through such a time of liminality. The old consensus began breaking down thirty years ago. In its place, new structures and methodologies were birthed, old networks were renegotiated, and some bold steps were taken. But we have not arrived yet. We are still in that liminal space and the passage through it may take a long time. As I read the words of Teilhard de Chardin quoted above, I have a feeling that there will continue to be some period of instability and uncertainty before we arrive at a new equilibrium—whatever it is.
“Are we there yet?” “No.”