Change can be difficult. Change can be overwhelming. Change can be confusing. Change can be intimidating. Change can be scary. Change can be strange!
And, yet, there are times when we have to, as David Bowie sang, “turn and face the strange.” In life, change is often necessary.
Yet, too often, the Church is resistant to change. Because we embrace, honor, and celebrate our tradition, our history, our past (and, rightly so, I might add), we often resist anything “new” or “different”. There are times when we spend so much time in the past that we fail to address the present and the future. So, we use ministry models, programs, and structures that may have been effective 30, 40, or 50 years ago and expect them to produce the same results in a rapidly changing world.
Often, we find that we prefer the comfort of what we know. Therefore, our willingness to take risks and step out in faith is often non-existent. “New”, “different”, “change”, and “modern” can appear to be curse words within certain church circles.
In a time when 80% or more of churches are plateaued or declining, change is necessary. We can’t continue to “do things they way we’ve always done them” and expect different results. And, yet, that is what many churches do!
We desire results without any effort.
We want transformation without transforming.
We want growth without growing pains.
We believe that the answer will be a new pastor. We say, “If we just get a new (or younger…or male…or white…or whatever) pastor (or youth/children’s/family/women’s/choir/worship director), all our problems will be solved.” We fool ourselves into believing that small tweaks to our staffing will be the solution. A newer, warmer body will fix everything! We won’t have to change our structure. We won’t have to conduct an honest audit on our ministries, programs, or traditions. We won’t need a new (or renewed) vision. We can continue to be comfortable.
Too often, churches are looking for hospice chaplains rather than visionary leaders. We aren’t looking for shepherds to lead us. We are looking for people to hold our hands and tell us how great we are as we slowly fade away.
We aren’t willing to step out of the safety of our boats. We aren’t willing to even dip our toes in the water to check the temperature.
However, the reality is, we are always changing. We are either growing or we’re dying! Choosing not to change is often a simple choice to die. And, in choosing to die, we are still changing. Our churches, whether they are growing or dying, look different today than they did 5, 10, 20, 30, 50 years ago. We are changing whether we like it or not!
Our churches need to learn how to say “yes” and embrace change. We need to say “yes” to new ideas. We need to say “yes” to stepping out in faith. We need to say “yes” in granting people permission to try, to fail, and even to succeed (some don’t embrace change simply because if the change works, well, it worked).
When we resist change, we are often just being proud. When change/new ideas are presented, the proud respond by saying:
- We’ve never done it that way.
- We’ve always done it this way.
- I don’t care about the new vision.
- I’m going to keep on doing what I’ve always done.
- We tried that before and it didn’t work.
- It’s my ball. It’s my rules. So, play by my rules or I’m going home.
- If you don’t go back to the old ways, I’m leaving.
- If you don’t go back to the way I like things, I’ll stop giving.
When Jesus said, “Go and make disciples”, he didn’t add in, “Oh, and never change because you’re perfect just the way you are!” He also didn’t say, “Wall yourselves up in the church building and just keep doing what you’ve always been doing.”
And, yet, from the outside looking it, it might appear as if that’s what we believe Jesus said.
So, our churches are confronted with some decisions:
- to grow or to die
- to say “yes” or “no”
- to “turn and face the strange” or stay the same