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The Choices of Dead Man’s Hill

Increasingly, most pastors realize they were trained for a world that almost no longer exists. Mix that into their marriages (if they’re married) or their families for an added stressor!

And most churches realize that the essence of what’s been a blessing to those inside the church is increasingly dismissed by those outside the church.

The result? An enormous greatest challenge “hill” that many are avoiding, some are courageously climbing and a few are occasionally celebrating with great breakthroughs.

So, with that introduction….

We have two bike routes near our home in Nashville. One is a beautiful route along the Cumberland River that gracefully winds its way through woods and over bridges to downtown and back. Scenic, rolling, a challenging 15 miles.

Route two is marked with sharp turns, steeper climbs and eventually an encounter with Dead Man’s Hill.

There’s no marker that says Dead Man’s Hill! I call it Dead Man’s Hill. After multiple attempts at lowest-gear pedaling toward its top, it’s MY Dead Man’s Hill.

I always know that Dead Man’s Hill is eventually waiting for me on route two. I’ve successfully climbed it 20% of the time. Mostly I climb 70% or 80% of the way to the top and then breathlessly, unceremoniously I dismount, gasping for air, reminding myself I should lose some weight, commit to more consistent training.

OR… (I did this yesterday) … I turn around before Dead Man’s Hill. Skip the challenge. Settle for a shorter ride.

I liken my Dead Man’s Hill experience to the experience most churches and plenty of leaders are having with taking on this “world we weren’t trained for” reality.

Our common “Dead Man’s Hill” reality?

  • A distrusted church…distrusted like all American institutions
  • A generation…ages 20-35…that’s mostly, quietly, left most congregations
  • A relegated posture at the margins of society…relics left from an earlier era

Most congregations won’t give this “Dead Man’s Hill” a try. Too foreign. Too much loss of what’s been a blessing in the past. Too much fear of all things uncertain in the future. A leader’s challenge of epic proportion. (Try reading the Acts of the Apostles again for another angle.)

If urgency were enough, every church would be on the climb, peddling hard…really hard.

We’ve unintentionally created a culture in most congregations where it’s better for leaders and people to “not risk failing” and turn around before their own Dead Man’s Hill than to take on their greatest challenge. Sometimes experiencing exhilarating breakthrough. Sometimes dismounting gasping for air.

In PLI we celebrate both breakthroughs and failed attempts. It’s better to dare boldly with faith in an experiment than to simply settle and avoid the hill.

Add risk to most congregations and you’ll find it invigorating! Community binding! Faith enriching!

So, my biggest fear at this conclusion? My fear is that you’ll want to come and ride Dead Man’s Hill with me and determine that it’s not nearly as daunting for you as I’ve made it sound.

What about you?

What is your greatest leadership fear in taking on your personal/congregational greatest challenge?

Or, the collective of your congregation? Ask them! What’s their Dead Man’s Hill they’d rather steer clear from than start to climb?

PLI provides structured, accountable processes packed with deep learning and unquenchable community in its learning communities to help leaders take on their greatest Dead Man’s Hill with vigor and boldness.

Jock Ficken
Rev. Dr. Jock Ficken

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