Renewal: From Lake To River

Written by Keith Doornbos
February 2, 2021

Pre-COVID church leadership was similar to paddling a lake. We now find ourselves paddling a river, which requires different skills.

I’m constantly searching for new ways to illustrate what church renewal is like in a rapidly changing world.  Recently, I started pondering the idea of paddling a lake vs. paddling a river as a helpful parable.  As canoeing enthusiasts, my wife and I have spent many hours on both lakes and rivers.  On most days, we prefer rivers over lakes for the joy of the constantly changing landscape, the rewards of mastering new skills and the celebration of being carried along by the currents.

In many ways, pre-COVID church leadership was similar to paddling a lake.  Without a current and with few obstacles, lake paddling demanded only moderate skill sets available through a seminary degree, some God-given people skills and a dollop of common sense.   Lake ministry takes real work, of course, as any paddler facing headwinds can attest.  But, for the most part, paddling lakes is more about effort than skills.  Paddling rivers, however, is quite different.

Here are seven characteristics of river-oriented renewal ministry:  

Characteristic 1: Renewal Leaders Will Have To Learn To Cooperate With the Currents   

Every good canoeist cooperates with the river’s flow.  Renewal leaders will have to be aware of the changing currents in the church and society to determine the best way to harness those currents for good and for God.

Characteristic 2: Renewal Leaders Will Have To Survive The Rapids

The rule of thumb for surviving the rapids is to lay low and don’t rock the boat.  River ministry demands the wisdom to clearly and calmly navigate intensely felt and contradictory viewpoints about culture, politics, race, ethics and religion.

Characteristic 3: Renewal Leaders Will Have To Endure the Shallows

River canoeing includes shallows when paddlers must lighten the load.  River ministry will include shallows when resources of people, time, dollars and imagination are running thin.  This is a new reality in a new ministry day.

Characteristic 4: Renewal Leaders Will Have to Embrace Increased Coming and Going

A familiar maxim observes, “You never step into the same river twice.”   River ministry has a lot of coming and going.  People, programs, even passions will be more seasonal than was true of previous ministry.  Tomorrow’s renewal ministries will feel similar to today’s campus ministries with ever changing audiences and ideas.

Characteristic 5: Renewal Leaders Will Have To Invest In New Skill Sets

In a rapidly changing world, professionals know that life-long learning is necessary to remain relevant.  River ministry also demands new learning that is especially focused on new technologies and communication skills.

Characteristic 6: Renewal Leaders Will Have To Discover New Fishing Techniques

Permit me a quick change of illustration from paddling to fishing.  Lake fishing is about a pole, some line, bobbers and a worm.  Fishing a river is about the highly skilled technique of fly fishing.  Likewise, river ministry will demand more thoughtful ways of capturing hearts for Jesus.

Characteristic 7: Renewal Leaders Will Have To Find Joy In The Journey

River ministry may include a capsize or two along the way.  Some will choose to complain about the swift currents, the fallen trees and the rocks.  Complainers will never be good canoeists.   Those who learn to love the river will become the leaders of Christ’s faith community in a rapidly changing world.  Choose joy and embrace the possibilities!

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