stepping out of our shells

What a caterpillar calls death and the risk of the unknown, we call a butterfly. What do we call a church that steps out in mission and risks the unknown?

In Rob Weber’s book, Visual Leadership: The Church Leader as ImageSmith, he tells a story about a hermit crab and what it taught him about risk-taking.

Being asked to go start something new is a somewhat frightening task. It’s at once frightening and exciting. When the District Superintendent called and asked me if I would consider being the pastor of the new church start (in Shreveport, LA), I wanted to make sure that it was what God wanted me to do and not just something that looked new and exciting. My wife and I were trying to discern whether we should take the opportunity to move and be part of the planting of a new congregation, so we went down to the land and walked around. We walked across the area that used to be covered with trailers, with many of the remnants still there. Then we climbed over the old barbed wire fence and walked into the towering pines. We talked about possibilities. We talked about the difficulty of leaving our current congregation. After a while we stopped to pray. I’m not one who usually asks for signs, but as we stopped to pray, I asked God to help me see what I was to do. I wanted to do what was the best thing for continuing to extend the Kingdom. We bowed to pray.

As we finished praying, I looked down at my feet, and there on the ground was a big pink conch shell half-buried in the pine straw. “Now, what is a big pink conch shell doing half-buried in the pine straw in the middle of some undeveloped, unimproved woods in north Louisiana?” I thought. I wasn’t sure, but I picked it up and started to imagine.

If you have played at a coastal beach, you have almost certainly seen a hermit crab in one of the tourist shacks. They’re those little fuzzy crustaceans that inhabit the discarded shells of other creatures. They find a shell, move in, eat, and grow. Then they get to this point, after they’ve scuttled around and eaten enough seaweed, that they’ve gotten big enough to need another shell, and if they don’t find another shell, they cease to grow, and eventually die. The decision to move [is] a critical point in the life of a hermit crab. If they decide to go to the other shell, they take this moment of risk where they move beyond the protection of one shell into the other shell.

The Season of Lent takes us on a journey toward the cross and to the resurrection. This journey calls us, as Christians, to a new and different way of living. As the church, we provide a safe place where individuals and groups of people can risk stepping out of the protection of what is known and safe into a new life offered by God in and through Jesus Christ. We are always at a point of being challenged to move from a haven of safety. We are called to risk movement for the sake of the mission. We are invited to live our mission in the community and the world.

What a caterpillar calls death and the risk of the unknown, we call a butterfly. Are you ready to step out of your shell and into the future?

-Tim Bias

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