Nobody likes change

April 7th, 2015

Nobody likes change.

When people claim that they love change, what they really mean is they love to be the implementers of change. Nobody likes change sprung upon them.

When Facebook rolls out a new layout or changes in policy, people flip.

When Apple rolled out the Lightning charger for their iPhones and iPads, people flipped because they had to upgrade/change all their accessories.

When Marvel introduced us to Miles Morales, the new Spider-Man, people were upset because Miles wasn't Peter Parker. (Read: white.)

When rumors of Idris Elba possibly being James Bond surfaced, people went ballistic because James Bond is white, not black. People were also upset with Daniel Craig as James Bond because Bond has brown eyes, not blue.

The point is — nobody likes change. But change is necessary for survival.

One of the reasons why many of our churches are in decline is because of our inability to change and adapt to the changing times and culture. Some of our local United Methodist Churches serve as time capsules — you walk in and all of a sudden you're transported back into the 70s and 80s. Don't get me wrong, the message of the gospel is universal and timeless. But we can't deliver that message in the same style, manner and method we used in the 70s, 80s, and/or 90s. For the most part, you won't reach young folks with camp songs that were sung in the 80s. So why do we insist on doing that and calling it our "contemporary service?" But I digress.

While change is necessary for survival, it's also scary. Change confronts us with the uncertainty of the future. If everything changes, the thing that I’ve held as familiar, as comfortable, as safe will be gone. Then what am I left with?

One of the biggest hurdles for change in our local churches is the fear of not knowing what that future holds or what it will look like. So while we may acknowledge the need to change, we're afraid to change. And one of the negative effects of that fear is that we cling tightly to what was. We create sacred cows of things not really sacred: the color of the carpet, the church furniture; that banner with the Lord's Prayer which has 100 years worth of dust caked on. I'm reminded of the Israelites after they crossed the Red Sea.

The Israelites said to [Moses and Aaron], "Oh, how we wish that the Lord had just put us to death while we were still in the land of Egypt. There we could sit by the pots cooking meat and eat our fill of bread. Instead, you’ve brought us out into this desert to starve this whole assembly to death." (Exodus 16:3)

The Israelites are basically saying they'd rather be slaves in Egypt than free and uncertain of the future — even though God is literally guiding them; even after the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea.

At least in Egypt, we had food, they lament.

I find it interesting how they so easily remember the meat and the bread but neglect to mention that they were slaves in Egypt.

Oftentimes the unknown future can be so frightening to people that they'd rather be stuck in the past — no matter how awful that past may be — because at least they're familiar with it. They'd rather face the enemy that they know than face a future of endless possibilities.

Instead of focusing on the promised land where milk and honey flows, they can't look beyond their current situation. So they turn to the past.

I wish I could give you answers on how to deal with congregations that are lamenting like the Israelites when changes need to be made. Like many of my colleagues, I'm navigating through the tension and fear of past and future, and many days I’m not doing a very good job at it.

I'm reminded of Andy Stanley's words: "Vision leaks."

While it's important to have a clear and concise mission/vision statement, it's important that everyone buys into the vision/mission statement and not just the pastor and leadership team. It's our job to continue to point to the bigger purpose that God has for our churches and to remind folks that God is always faithful. And it's up to us leaders to discern whether we need to gently remind them of our purpose and mission with a loving nudge or knock them over the head with it (in a loving and grace-filled way, of course).

God provided for the Israelites. God is always faithful.

May you find strength, courage, wisdom, and grace in God — who is our source for everything — as you continue to lead your people to live out God's vision for them.

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