There’s a famous quote by hockey great Wayne Gretzky that gets floated out in leadership circles, including the church, on a semi-regular basis: “Skate to where the puck is going, not to where it has been.” It’s undeniably good advice for hockey players, especially coming from someone known as the sport’s “Great One.” It also sounds amazingly appealing for people leading an institution or organization where the future feels uncertain. If you can intuit where things are inevitably going, and have a plan for getting yourself and your organization there, then you and your organization have a chance of being seen as having something relevant, attractive and compelling to offer.
I will confess that I am not someone who is good at knowing where the puck is going. I’m grateful to the prophets among us who can read the tea leaves and the spreadsheets and offer us fact-based trajectories about things like climate change, pandemics, asteroids, and the economy. I’m grateful for honest, fact-based assessments about things like church budgets and faith community membership. I’m not much of a skater, and I’m also not the kind of leader who is particularly good at mapping strategic plans that will chart our course for the next five years. I have my gifts, but getting out in front of the puck isn’t what I would define as one of them.
For those of us who aren’t skaters or the best strategists, there’s an alternative to Gretzky’s advice. This alternative is where I find hope and something to offer. It’s also an alternative that ultimately serves us well for the future too. It might be essential, in fact, for being prepared and faithful for what lies ahead.
The alternative to skating to where the puck is going is in becoming really attentive to where the puck actually is right now.
I would go as far as to say that “being attentive to where the puck is now” is a good metaphor for the priestly ministry to which I am called. The priesthood in which we share, the priesthood of all believers, isn’t about planning for what’s around the corner, it’s about lifting up what is. It’s about being clear about what is here before our eyes; it’s about praying for God’s blessing to be revealed right here and right now.
Most people who know me know that I love to run. Perhaps what I love even more than running though is listening to podcasts. My love of podcasts is usually what gets me out the door for a run, even when I don’t feel like putting shoe to pavement. I love listening in and feeling part of obsessively detailed discussions about reality television or music; I am grateful for long form interviews that delve into the real meat of getting to know what makes a public figure, politician, celebrity or artist tick. Being a podcast guest on Vicar’s Crossing and Pew & Beyond—two amazing Canadian Anglican podcast offerings—was one of my favourite experiences of being able to talk about recent writing projects and publications.
It was in that same rota of book promotion that I first connected with Future Christian podcast, hosted by Loren Richmond Jr. out of Denver, Colorado. Future Christian is intentionally ecumenical and features guests specifically speaking on ecclesiology: the life, structures and leadership of the church. Because that is the focus, it leaves a great deal of room for Christians from a variety of contexts to offer insight from mainline, charismatic, small, large, rural, urban, church plants, and legacy churches, to name a few categories.
What has intrigued me most about the podcast, and what eventually resulted in my taking on some hosting duties along with Loren, was the threads that I kept hearing across these remarkably different experiences and dialects of the Christian faith. One guest might reflect on what it looks like to be a Christian missionary overseas in an age of decolonization. Another might be reflecting on urban church planting. And both are calling Christians wherever they find themselves ministering to invest deeply in listening and learning from the people and places we have been called to serve. Guests have offered reflections on clergy burn-out, the future of theological colleges, the grief of closing a church, and what the research shows about why people are leaving the church, and across all of these seemingly different topics comes a clearer picture of what it means to proclaim the Gospel within the context of secularism. Research is offered, statistics are unpacked, guests talk from personal experience about what has worked, where and why it worked, as well as what hasn’t worked and how there is grace and learning there too.
If we go back to the Gretzky analogy, although the podcast is called “Future” Christian, what it offers first and foremost is a slowed down, multi-vantage point perspective on where the puck is right now. What’s great about that is the honesty and freedom that results from allowing the church to consider who we really are, in this moment, and where we are experiencing life and stress and hope and failing. What’s great about that is removing the guess work, the wishing we were something different, the worrying about what’s to come and getting real about what actually is—this is the Ultrareal Church, as I like to call it. What’s great is that God is there. Shining through the most raw and honest accounts from across the church landscape, as well as the accounts of flourishing, is the God who makes good on the promise to show up. What’s great is that becoming clearer about what is right here now also offers much needed clarity for what lies around the corner.
Future Christian is one forum for listening, learning, drawing connections, hearing field reports and piecing together how it all connects. Where and how is this happening in your ministry? What discussions are you having that feel most honest and liberating? And how can we shape cultures of attentiveness to the real, lived, varied, multi-dimensional experience of voices from across the church landscape lifting up for us the raw and holy experience of who we actually are?