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Change 2021 | SKMB

Change 2021

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet soliloquy we read, “To be or not to be, that is the question.”  The playwright’s protagonist mused whether it was better to live in the sea of daily troubles or, via suicide in this case, journey to the “undiscover’d country from whose bourne no traveler returns.”  Shakespeare’s question moved his listeners to a point of decision; would they continue struggling through life or choose death.  Either way, something would change. 

Every decision for or against a particular change affects real people and must be weighed with wisdom, and in a manner that is unhurried and measured in degree.

This article is not about Shakespearian literature; it is about change.  When the pandemic began, the church’s change of praxis was swift.  As the pandemic evolved and stretched on, change was again the response, albeit with less urgency.  Today, with the light at the end of the COVID tunnel growing brighter by the day, the church is again thinking about change.  There is no shortage of prophetic voices calling for the church to make bigger and bolder changes to meet the coming ‘new world.’  The repeated refrain is similar to the old maxim “Old ways won’t open new doors.”  Prominent Christian leaders argue that the church’s impact will dwindle unless it changes.  The reality is that some change happens whether or not we want it, but is change, like the notion of fate, completely out of our hands?
 
A Time for Everything
 
John F. Kennedy once said, “Change is the law of life.”  Long before President Kennedy the biblical Preacher counsels readers: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens...a time to keep and a time to throw away (change)” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,6b).  I am convinced that the church must change to meet the post-pandemic Canadian culture and its profound challenges.  Every religious organization is looking to adapt.  The purpose of this article is to have the church discern wisely the reasons and urgency for their specific changes.  Sometimes change is needed and beneficial; sometimes what is better is to stay the course.  Every decision for or against a particular change affects real people and must be weighed with wisdom.  It seems prudent that changes should be considered in a manner that is unhurried, honours the past, and are measured in their degree.  Every church writes its legacy by the decisions it makes for or against change and the process it employs.  Churches want to make good decisions for their fellowship and ministry; decisions that are not burdened with regrets.  To help avoid such regrets, I propose ten must ask questions when contemplating SIGNIFICANT changes to ministry praxis.
 
Ten Must Ask Questions

  • What is the “Why”?

Any significant change to your church’s praxis must start with articulating the reason it is being proposed.  Is the contemplated change for purposes of church survival or moving the church from maintaining to thriving, or to moving from good to great?    If this contemplated change was postponed or not adopted, what would the ramification be?  There is a Senegalese proverb which states “Haste and hurry can only bear children with many regrets along the way.”  In his devotional, A Minute of Margin, Dr. Richard Swenson writes, “Seldom is wisdom a product of a speedy deliberation.”  In the end the congregation and staff need leadership that take time to clearly and fully layout the “why” for the change otherwise mistrust and doubt can seep into the process.

  •  What is the environment of the church?

Does the contemplated change come from a place of strength and health?  What is the emotional health and capacity of leadership and the faith community?  Is this a reactive or proactive endeavour?  Is this proposed change arising from a toxic or healthy space?  Knowing the catalyst for a proposed change helps leadership gain perspective, a solid footing and helps to inform process.  Beware making significant changes in the thick of conflict or fatigue.

  • What has the Holy Spirit revealed about the contemplated change?

Have you bathed the proposed change in prayer with fasting?  Has someone spoken prophetically into this endeavour and has such a word been affirmed by others?  The Holy Spirit is the church’s Counselor, guiding it into truth and toward Jesus (Acts 14:26; 16:12).  In light of the proposed change, can you testify that “It [seems] good to the Holy Spirit and to us...” Acts 15:28)?

  • Does the contemplated change harmonize with the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-39) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20)? 

Will it foster care and love for one another in the faith community (“Love one another deeply, from the heart” 1 Peter 1:22b)?  Will it advance the Gospel?  Will the change help you foster discipleship and disciple-making.

  • Has the contemplated change been tested in another setting?

If another church implemented a similar change, what has been the impact and outcome?  What counsel can they give you?  Can they offer you resources, saving you from reinventing the wheel, so-to-speak?

  • Have we carefully listened to the faith community about the contemplated change?

Sometimes leadership is convinced that they have a great idea for change, but soon discover that they are the only ones with such a belief.  For a change to take root and have a positive impact, the faith community must own it and feel that their concerns have been heard and addressed.  The proposed change may not have originated amongst the grassroots, but it most certainly must be accepted by them.

  •  Are there trusted third-party voices that could be invited to speak into this contemplated change?

“Seldom is wisdom a product of a speedy deliberation.” 

Dr. Richard Swenson

I have routinely benefited from the counsel of individuals not directly connected to our faith community nor the proposed change.  They can speak without the bias a church member/adherent holds. Often such folks bring a fresh perspective.  There is truth in the statement found in Proverbs 15:22, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed.”

  • Will this contemplated change genuinely fit with your vision and mission?

Is your proposed change in harmony with the direction and mandate of your faith community?  Beware of change for change's sake; such an approach can be more damaging to your church than no change at all.  The change should actually enhance your mission and ministry.

  • Who will lead the contemplated change?

There is wisdom in putting a face to any proposed change, preferably a capable and trusted one.  If people have questions or concerns as the change is implemented, it is important that they know with whom they can connect with.  In addition, if the “face” is one that inspires confidence and loyalty, there is a greater chance that the change will be successful.

  • When and how will we assess the effectiveness of the contemplated change?

It is simply good organizational practice to evaluate the impact and effectiveness of a proposed change.  This allows for any course corrections and builds confidence in leadership.  The church will know that their leadership is superintending the change and that the details of it as well as its effectiveness will be reported back to the congregation.
 
SOMETIMES Change is Good
 
American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan wrote the 1964 song For the times they are a-changin’.”  It is a fitting theme some fifty-seven years later, especially for the life and ministry of the church.  Before the pandemic, Tod Bolsinger wrote the book Canoeing The Mountains, and penned: “The world in front of you is nothing like the world behind you...We are called to adapt to a changing world because we are called to reach that changing world...We are to lead the people of God into the mission of God...”   I wonder if Bolsinger’s counsel doesn’t carry even more weight today.
 
Some current prophetic voices echo similar guidance, but their statements seem to be oracles on steroids.  For example, speaking about the church, Carey Nieuwhof posted on one of his blogs, “If you can’t make a decision within 24 hours, your process is too slow...To reach a changing culture, the church needs to change.  Rapidly.”  Really?  Again, heed the wisdom of Swenson, “Very little of lasting spiritual value happens in the presence of speed.”  Consider also the Swahili proverb, “Haste has no blessings.”  Rapid change is risky, maybe even reckless.
 
The church needs to do extensive environmental assessments as it emerges from the pandemic.  And, change is a likely outcome.  I simply repeat my counsel to the church: ask good questions, be measured and discerning.  Don’t rush the process on SIGNIFICANT change.  Remember the anonymous maxim: SOMETIMES change is good.

Top Ten Reasons Why Church Changes FAIL
Rev. Philip Gunther

#10  The change is a move to keep up with the church down the street.           
#9    The change has vague outcomes and lacks a sound roadmap that directs the change.
#8    There is insufficient and unclear communication about the change.
#7    The change is superficial or cosmetic; it doesn’t fit the mission.
#6    There is a flawed or poorly executed plan to process the change.
#5    The change is rushed, coupled with a lack of patience for those not on-side.
#4    There is anemic buy-in by leaders and/or congregants.
#3    There is a failure to sincerely listen to all parties and external counsel.   
#2    There is a lack of clarity around the “why.”
#1    The change is outside of God’s purposes; origin is humanistic.

Rev. Philip A. Gunther

Director Of Ministry

Saskatchewan Conference of M.B. Churches

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