Bad preaching. Poor Bible studies. Erratic visitation. What’s the worst thing a new pastor can do? Move the podium. At least, that’s what I was told.
When I was starting out, an experienced pastor told me to take things slow and steady. Maintain the status quo. And whatever I did, I wasn’t to move the podium – at least for the first year.
There’s a little truth in the advice. It takes time to get to know people, establish trust, and develop confidence. Imagine a person coming into your home and rearranging the furniture, moving all your pictures, repainting the walls. You would likely be defensive and think the person is a bit nuts, even if your home looked better in the end. I like to think of Nehemiah: rebuilding the temple he surveyed the walls to see what was already being done. To me, that’s metaphor for discovering what the Holy Spirit is already doing in a church and community and where I can join the work that’s already in progress.
And yet, there’s something a bit darker underlying this advice.
Some change needs to be closely scrutinized – change for change sake doesn’t always produce good results, change to core beliefs or the church’s mission and vision need consultation and much prayer. However, sometimes change is resisted because a practice or thing has become a sacred cow. There are the faded, dust-choked VHS tapes in the library that just can’t be thrown out or the clock on the wall that doesn’t work but was donated so it stays year after year, or maybe it’s the huge, isolating, podium that can’t be updated because the church spent $1000 on it 40 years ago and that’s a lot of money.
Resistance to change can run much deeper. Ministry leaders that haven’t lead in years but keep getting nominated because we are afraid of what will happen if they don’t. An order of service that actually hurts worship but can’t be adjusted because that’s the way it’s always been done. Approaches to evangelism and service that no longer make a difference in anyone’s life but we keep doing them anyway. This is the resistance to change that kills churches.
Here’s the irony. Contrast the congregation’s resistance to change with the experience of the new pastor and family. Change in home, change in community, change in friends, routines, schools, and employment. If the church is in a new territory that’s a whole bunch more change. These changes are all hard enough when one is in the same culture. What happens when there is a shift in culture, language, customs? We are talking change on a massive scale and we haven’t even talked about the new things to be faced in the church.
Do I expect you, good reader, to shed some tears for your pastor? Not really, although it won’t kill you to be more graceful next time a new pastor arrives; more understanding and supportive. The reality is, answering God’s call results in change or adjustment on a regular basis. It would be naive to be willing to serve God and not expect some significant change along the way. No, your pastor doesn’t need your pity. This is about something far more important.
God. God is constantly at work in and around the church to reveal himself, his purposes, and his ways so that we will be attracted into a deeper and deeper relationship with him and as a result we will go out to the brokenhearted and the enslaved so that they may also be healed and set free. God brings pastors (and members and attenders) to churches not for job advancement or personal satisfaction or comfort but so that His will and mission may be accomplished. And when a new pastor comes to a congregation there will be change – change for the pastor and change for the congregation. Change because God wants change. How much change is up to him. It could be as simple as the change that comes with new personalities. However, the change is likely to be significant if only because God tends to do big things.
God-breathed change is not to be feared or resisted. God is all-knowing so we can completely trust his plans for change. God always acts from love so his change is for our good; when we look back we will rejoice and praise him. He doesn’t experiment to get it right; he doesn’t say, “Oops.” God-breathed change is just right for the church and necessary for mission accomplishment. We must never shrink back from change thinking we are unable or ill-equipped to handle it. God gives us the tools, resources, courage, passion, and vision to go through any change he wants to bring into our lives and churches.
So my brother and sister, can you spare some change?