One Thing Never Changes!
In a time when things are changing rapidly, the one thing that brings order in the chaos is the thing that does not change. The challenge for church leaders is that we can often mistake what that one thing is!
Instinctively, we all resist change. No one really enjoys having to get a new dentist, move your favorite chair to a new place in your living room, or take up a new set of responsibilities at work. Yet the inevitability of change is very much a part of human experience. When it comes to church we are not any different. Things have changed in most of our churches over the past 20 years. For example, many of our churches are now smaller and older than they used to be! We may sing different songs or offer different sorts of ministries. Yet how do we navigate what might need to change about the way we live out our Christian faith?
Here is the rub. We are more likely to allow change in our church contexts when the change we are considering does not really threaten long-held practices or beliefs. We are less likely to advocate for a change that might stir up folks or feel threatening. What often happens in churches is that we make our decisions about change based on whether (or not!) it will ruffle feathers. Our criteria becomes, “How do we keep the most people happy?” Sadly, I don’t think the Christian faith is particularly interested in keeping people happy.
I want to highlight a different way to navigate change, and that is to work with the one thing that does not change. I could name this one thing in a number of ways. I could follow the witness of Hebrews 13: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Or perhaps it might be useful to say it this way: God began something in Jesus Christ—namely, to restore all persons. God commissioned the church to be the agency for this redemptive work in the world. The church is on a mission to embody God’s invitation to the world!
That mission has not changed. And for leaders who understand their calling, that mission is the foundational principle by which all other things are evaluated. The mission matters!
So as your church wrestles with next steps—whatever they may be in your context—the criteria undergirding the discernment process is asking, “How do we extend God’s mission to our community?” Without that essential question on the table, any discussion about next steps will quickly devolve into keeping people happy.
And I suppose, if we really thought about it, the best way to foster true happiness (or joy) might well be to illuminate once again the remarkable calling the church has to bear witness to Jesus—for the sake of the world!