Friday, September 14, 2012

Just Say "No" to the Status Quo

Want to strike fear in the hearts of many United Methodists? Want ensure a phone call from your PPRC Chair and / or your District Superintendent? Simply utter, even quietly or under your breath, that dreaded word no pew sitter wants to hear C H A N G E. Certainly I’m exaggerating for effect, but we all know that the idea or call for change in the Church causes fear and, too often, mistrust. Now there are all sorts of reasons why the thought of change causes fear, but the one I want to address is our misunderstanding of the reality of change.

Change in the church brought about the birth of Methodism. Change is the heart of the Christian message. Change is why Christ came and walked among us. As individuals and congregations we are quick to speak of the transforming power of the love of Jesus Christ. We celebrate stories of repentance and renewal. We accept the concept of change expressed in the words transform, repent, and renew, but we shudder at the thought of change.

As United Methodists, we codify change in our Book of Discipline saying “The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” John Wesley was the greatest source of change in the Protestant Church in his time and change was an everyday part of his personal spiritual life. 
“Moving on to perfection” requires (drum roll please)--- change.

As Pastors and Church Leaders it is our job, our calling, our duty to shepherd people through change. Life changes and spiritual changes. If we are not helping people, helping the Church, change then we are failing in our chief responsibility, the care of souls.

As part of a program developed by the Turner Center for Church Leadership at Vanderbilt University, I recently met with a group of young Pastors. Among these Emerging Young Church Leaders, change was an important and oft used word. Change was coveted, change was embraced, and change was sought after. I pray those young leaders hold on to the hope of change as their ministries mature. Too often I’ve seen seasoned Pastors shrug their shoulders and say “What can you do, the church doesn't want to change?” Pastors who once shared the zeal of the folks I met with, but resistance to change on the part of their congregations and lack of support from their superiors has left them indifferent, and that is sad. When we abandon the capacity to change we have abandoned hope! If nothing else a Pastor must be hopeful.

In shepherding our Church through change we must have the support of our Church Administrators. Bishops and District Superintendents must be willing to take those upset phone calls from fearful parishioners (and big givers) and explain change in an affirming way that supports the Pastors they appointed to Local Churches that are in great need of change.

Let’s face it friends, the Church will change. The question is do we want to manage and lead that change or do we just want to be swept up in it and controlled by change?

I choose to embrace change. Change that is reasoned, relevant, necessary, and needed. Change that is directed by God. Change that is empowered by the Holly Spirit. Change that is inherent in the love of Jesus Christ. Change that is and has been the tradition and focus of the Christian church since the times recorded in the Book of Acts.

More to come as I learn from the Emerging Young Leaders of the United Methodist Church.