January 4, 2021

Happy New Liminal Year

Does it seem to you that, “Happy New Year” is being said more fervently now? As if we are demanding: “Be happy, New Year!”

Congregational leaders are likely praying for the same as the stress of change and survival continue. Five years ago, consultant, coach and spiritual director Susan Beaumont began writing a book about such struggle. It was published in September 2019. By 2020, its title seemed designed for the pandemic: How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going: Leading in a Liminal Season.

“Liminality refers to a quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs during transition, when a person or group of people is in between something that has ended and something else that is not yet ready to begin,” Beaumont explains in Chapter 1.

That sure sounds like pandemic time. However, Beaumont’s book was written for the church already in transition from a never-to-return past to a future where the structure of ministry is not clear.

2020 may have heightened our sense of urgency because there is so much to do: Serve those impacted by the virus, work to address racial injustice, restore worship, increase our capabilities to use technology and to connect with each other, stabilize our finances. Let’s get on with it!

Beaumont calls on clergy and the laity to take a breath. She calls us to recognize the tension between tactical, strategic action and “soul-tending” of our congregations.

“Liminality is about erasing those boundaries,” Beaumont explained to me in a recent phone conversation. “There is time required to be centered, to discern what God is up to. It can’t happen in a frenzied state of work.”

How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going encourages clergy and other church leaders “to remain non-anxious, to be self-reflective, and to self-differentiate personal issues from the issues of the organization.” The book guides leadership to use stories to shape institutional memory in a way that teaches important values and points to a hope-filled future.

The book provides instructive examples of ways church leaders can help the congregation “determine what is worth preserving, what can be released, and what must be adapted” to realize a purposeful, energized future.

This happy new year will continue to keep us in a state of limbo for quite a while. How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going: Leading in a Liminal Season directs us how to prayerfully and courageously use this time to discern what God is calling us to be and to do.