by Heidi Regier Kreider, Conference Minister

This reflection is second in a series focusing on the leadership competencies featured in training offered at the Kansas Leadership Center.  WDC is partnering with South Central Conference to offer this training to pastors and other congregational leaders through a Leadership Transformation Grant from KLC.  Today’s column is on “Diagnosing the Situation.”

Mark 10:17-31 tells of a rich man who ran up and knelt in front of Jesus, addressing him, “Good Teacher.” Jesus could have proudly accepted this title of moral authority as a compliment, but instead he challenged the man: “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”

When the man asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”, Jesus listed the scriptural commandments, to which the man replied, “Teacher, I have kept all these since youth.”   Again, Jesus could have simply congratulated the rich man, and sent him on his way with a guarantee of eternal life.  Instead, Jesus challenged the man once more: “You lack one thing: Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me.”  Shocked by Jesus’ response, the man went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

In this gospel story, Jesus diagnosed the situation differently than the rich man expected him to.   Instead of settling for predictable interpretations of “goodness,” Jesus reframed the issue by asking questions and exploring tough interpretations, challenging the rich man to reexamine his assumptions about God, goodness, and the “good life.” Jesus refused to give an easy answer to the rich man’s question, or a quick solution to his quest for eternal life. Instead, Jesus invited the man to embrace the difficult process of transformation.

Jesus then turned to his disciples, checking how they might respond to this exploration of various interpretations of how to access salvation: “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God,” he declares. His disciples are perplexed. Jesus tries again, this time adding a provocative visual description: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God!”   The astounded disciples protest, “Then who can be saved?”   They, too, still struggle to move beyond the assumption that salvation is an acquisition that can be earned by human effort.

Jesus reminds them that salvation is God’s work – not merely the accomplishment of human beings.  “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God,” he says – “for God all things are possible.”

As I have traveled across Western District Conference during my first weeks as Conference Minister, I have observed congregations and pastors facing situations that may at times seem impossible to overcome:  Poverty, hunger or gun violence in their neighborhoods; aging church facilities (or lack of a facility); teens and young adults cynical about the church; changes in technology and social media; physical and mental health issues; conflicts between church members; differences over sexuality and Biblical interpretation; political, global concerns…and more.

And, I also observe congregations diagnosing situations in creative ways that allow for new possibilities.   I am grateful for leaders who ask questions, explore tough interpretations, test multiple points of view, distinguish between technical solutions and adaptive work, seek to understand what is required in the process of change, and identify who needs to do the work.

In the process, hungry people are fed, justice is experienced, comfort and courage are offered, new buildings are designed and built, people gather for worship, youth come to faith and are baptized, forgiveness is shared, resources are provided for those in crisis…and much more.  With God all things are possible!