Preparing Disciples for the Inevitable Unknown

Photo by Mona Eendra


By: Janet Ross

How do we prepare for what we don’t know? We live in an environment of expected and unexpected change in our churches and in our lives. How do we become grounded disciples who can embrace the unknown? How do we let go of our resistance to change, so that we don’t miss out on new opportunities? This is what we learn – and practice – at the Centre for Christian Studies.

Equipping leadership for transformation starts with practice. At CCS, we practice change itself: how to prepare for change, how to navigate it, talk about it, learn from discomfort, communicate through it, discern, and do it. This is a key point of the action/reflection model CCS uses for education, for spiritual growth, and for ministry. How do participants learn to learn? How do we learn to change and transform ourselves, and to navigate whatever the inevitable unknown may bring? We start with asking questions.

This altar table is from the Intro course: Learning on Purpose (LoP) 2023 in Winnipeg at CCS. This is a course many use for discernment in ministry. It will be in Montreal this June, and next year back in Winnipeg. Photo by CCS Staff.





CCS uses social analysis to get at the deeper questions – what is really going on at the roots, at the depths? We can easily get caught up in what’s happening in front of us, and miss the chance to ask questions and to develop a broader picture. Critical questions consider what’s going on underneath: how did we get here, what are the impacts, where are we headed? We practice responding to deeper questions, all the while riding the waves we see and feel on the surface.

Our communities, including church communities, are places of change. Leaders and disciples are constantly navigating changing contexts of ‘church.’ At CCS, we look at changing sociological trends as well as change at the diocesan level and global level regarding membership, participation, and finances. We consider life-cycles in a ministry context (how do ministries spring up, how do they compost, how do we understand this as part of a bigger picture where composting in one place feeds something else?) Students ask what kind of leadership skills do we need to bring in these places.

Participants also experience dedicated sessions on innovative ministries, particularly what happens when a ministry wants to reinvent itself or partner with other organizations or work with social enterprise. We look at resources within the wider church and para church structures that support these kinds of innovation. We explore how to do this imagining and innovation with support. In their projects, students connect with people who do this kind of work and partner with parishes, congregations, and communities of faith.

A church increasingly on the margins of society needs people trained to be the Church on the margins, living the vision of the Gospel in all places. The CCS program and pedagogy are firmly rooted in the Christ of the margins, navigating the inevitable unknown.

An exercise in theological and leadership analysis with Anglicans and UCC folks from the LoP in Victoria at Christ Church Cathedral. Photo by CCS staff.






How do we navigate? Who doesn’t like having north stars? It can be really nice to have whatever we hold onto as our north star. But then the world rotates and changes, and it’s not north any more. We get into a feedback loop where things are not working quite right any longer, something needs to be shifted or adjusted. This is what CCS trains people for – to notice when things shift, to be attentive to how things are shifting, and especially to have the ability and willingness to be moved and changed.

Recent CCS graduate and Diaconal Minister Rev. Karen Orlandi noticed reluctance in her community. Some were reluctant to attend church on Sunday mornings. Others were reluctant to talk about impactful things in life – sex, finances, politics, etc. Karen shifted. She started “Church After Dark,” a worship service held at night which was less formal and included a dialogue time. Each “Church After Dark” service has a specific topic. Parishioners have opportunities to reflect on biblical texts, pose questions, and share wisdom and experiences.

We can’t just prepare for the church and life as it was. We have to also prepare for the church as it is becoming. CCS offers leadership tools to explore options for how the church can be manifest and embodied today in new and differing ways. Students learn and practice how to be particular disciples for particular times.

What are we looking for? When people are in times of transition, are they looking for someone to lead the way? Someone to walk with them? To understand their experience? To affirm their own inner strength to risk change? How do spiritual leaders discern what kind of leadership is needed in any given moment? At CCS, students consider and practice a variety of leadership styles, and how to recognize which aspect of leadership to use when. This means individuals also have a chance to strengthen and deepen self-awareness, and to learn the difference between self-focus and self-awareness. This is one of the starting points for interacting with change and transitions – to know where our hearts are, our values, and to discern what is needed for transitions. When we engage in practices of awareness with one another, we develop wisdom for particular contexts and situations.

Students also ask questions of ‘whose’ awareness. Using critical analysis tools that offer a variety of analysis and a diversity of voices for that analysis, participants recognize power dynamics and the impacts of social location and privilege. Students practice discernment around which voices are necessary for a particular moment, which voices are missing, or why they are not listening to certain voices. We learn in community, so we engage voices and situations from the past to clarify the present, and can imagine the future more clearly and creatively.

2023 Ministry as Storytelling course. The CCS students in the picture are Lauri Ladd (on the left, from St. Thomas, ON) and Caitlin Smithers (on the right, from Halifax, NS). Lauri and Caitlin are both involved in congregational social justice ministries. Photo by CCS staff.





Why learn in community? Learning in community, students discover they are not alone. They learn how to reach out for support, how to engage with partners, mentors, and how to find who is needed for particular transitions. We know that participants teach each other much more quickly than a single teacher is able to do. Together students challenge themselves and their colleagues, inviting each other to stretch and practice adventure learning, increasing flexibility and imagination. Action/reflection education includes activities about imagining and identifying things that are not visible – from assumptions and biases to the hidden manna of revelation and discovering prophetic courage. In Learning Circles such as “Oppression and Resistance,” participants practice how to speak up effectively, how to advocate, and to respond to injustice. All this can be translated into tools for leadership for change and transition, equipping individuals to navigate transition personally, communally, in relationship, and in society.

As we are called to Life, we are called to change. We are called to be disciples in the inevitable unknown. And as it is said, ‘to come near to God is to change.’

Thanks to all in the CCS community who make learning in community possible, and thanks to those of you who contributed to this article through stories and reflections.




Janet Ross is one of the program staff at the Centre for Christian Studies, an Anglican and United Church national theological school for Diaconal education. She and her wife, Orion, live in Winnipeg and actually love the winters.


Keep on reading...


Parish Profile: Stonewall Church of the Ascension

Interview with Walter, Jean, Joyce, and The Rev. James Gomez   RLN: Could you tell me about the name of your parish? Jean: We used ...

Joint Committee Struck Between Anglicans and Lutherans

Image by Clark Van Der Beken   By: Theo Robinson Over the last few years, there has been an increase in attacks on the 2SLGBTQIA+ ...

Change Journeys at Holy Trinity

  While working in healthcare, I attended at one-day workshop on change for chaplains. During the workshop, we discussed the book Guiding Change Journeys by ...
Skip to content