I have a spiritual director. She is someone I meet with monthly who asks the “God question” in my life. I’ve learned a million things from this little practice of ours—several of them life changing—but the first thing I learned is that I hear God better when someone is listening with me. I see God more clearly, when someone is looking out at the world with me, also expecting to see God there—moving and offering and welcoming. Often in our sessions—when I start to assume all is lost—she asks again, “so where is God?” And I am forced to imagine again that there is some way out of this human mess I am in other than my creativity, diligence, or strength. And that is not easy work. I don’t know how to imagine a hope that doesn’t come from a concrete, plausible likelihood. When I most need the Good News, I really struggle to imagine that God is working and will show up when I need it, even if I see no evidence of that coming toward me through a familiar, practical, or logical channel.
God is Moving in the World
My spiritual director sits quietly and waits—sure that I will be given what I need, sure that I will be able to see God moving somewhere and be able to call it out. And while this exercise is hard, while it sometimes even feels delusional, there is always a moment in there, when something starts to shift in me. I start to think—“okay God, wherever you are, if ever you are—I actually can’t get out of this human mess with my creativity, diligence, or strength. I know, because I’ve tried, I’m frustrated, and it isn’t working. That is why I’m talking about it in spiritual direction. So where are you? What are you going to do about it?”
Now God never says, “I AM HERE! I am doing exactly what you wanted! It is fixed! Go have a snack!” But something happens. I start to remember that it is not all mine to fix. I start to remember that it is God’s world and God is moving in it. I start to be able to breathe next to all the things I’m worried about, and I learn how to live alongside all the things I can’t fix. They belong to God and not to me.
Listening to God in Church Planting
When I talk about church planting, this is the evangelism space I hope we as conveners might be able to open with each other, and with the people in our communities. As we gather, can we watch together for God to move? As we listen closely to each other’s lives, can we dare to ask the question—where is God? What is God doing here? Can we find comfort in asking it together? Could new faith communities be new spaces of courage to look together at what God might be up to?
This is my prayer for this work—that we might have eyes to look for God and ears to listen as we do the work of gathering those who trust, those who doubt, and those who are willing to bravely ask the questions. For it is in those holy spaces that I have encountered the converting truth of the Gospel.
The Rev. Karen Rohrer is director of the Church Planting Initiative at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Before joining the CPI team, Karen was co-pastor and co-founder of Beacon, a Presbyterian Church in the Kensington section of Philadelphia. The saints of Beacon taught her contextual ministry, the joy of being church, and the unique grace of being a lady pastor and boss in a neighborhood of matriarchs. The building of Beacon taught her amateur handy-woman and moisture remediation skills and that a particular space really can be a reminder that you are loved. As director of the Church Planting Initiative, she is excited to vision new ways the church can bear good news to the world and to support and resource the leaders God is calling forth to make it so.