This (the journey through the wilderness) represents a difficult shift within congregations from being excessively focused on relationships (keeping members satisfied) to being much more focused on purpose (giving people meaning).

Making disciples is different from making members. When first entering ordained ministry, I was not trained or asked to make disciples. I was trained to make members … (therefore it is) natural that our mainline denominational identity and stories have become both safe and weak. 

Leadership itself has changed in the church, and we currently ask for results greatly different from what leaders were once expected to produce and different from what leaders were trained to produce. Part of the current challenge for leaders in our mainline churches is the dual task of not only knowing what to do but also knowing what not to do, what to let go of.


Missing in this story may be the congregation’s fear of the changed community that now surrounds its building and how it tends not to welcome and naturally include the neighborhood people who might join in a worship service.

Recalling, reclaiming, and risking to live into a newer, fresher identity as a people of God are essential tasks of our particular wilderness experience.

To go through change requires that we ourselves be changed—that is, after all, what a wilderness is for. Self-change is one of the greatest gifts of an exodus. It is all right that not everyone makes the trip on this particular exodus. However, leaders need to be clear about why they are moving on without others and what calls them to value purpose over relationship.


The new reality was that most people already belonged to too many organizations and groups, and had too many commitments…. Today learning to include people in the congregation who participate without joining is a new and necessary skill to address within our changed mission field.

To be heard in this new world, congregations now needed to be much clearer about to whom they were talking and much clearer about what they were offering to these people.