Every person and organization go through a period of transition. My current role in ministry is about to undergo a radical shift within the next year. Our leader will complete his time of service, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the grassroots missional movement that God has started under his leadership. However, as the old saying goes, “All good things come to an end.” Our area churches will elect a new man of God to lead them into the next story of our organization’s future. With that transition comes uncertainty.
Usually, changes cause me great anxiety. Which is rarely grounded in reality but only the perception of what horrible things might be and I am aware of that, but it does not stop the heart from racing. When that anxiety comes, you need an outlet. Here is the problem or blessing for me, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, so my outlet is music. Music soothes the anxiety beast. However, this transition has not come with a lot of anxiety, maybe being on the other side of fifty it just takes too much emotional energy, and I need all the energy I can muster to chase around my energetic five-year-old son. Not wanting to be a victim of the anxiety monster has also allowed me to step back and look at the landscape of the path forward for my organization. Maybe the lessons I learn could be of benefit to my readers.
Isaac Newton’s first Law of Motion applies well here: “Everything continues in a state of rest unless it is compelled to change by forces impressed upon it.”
My church body is feeling this law in very uncomfortable ways right now. The world around the church is changing at a rapid pace, and it is pressing hard on the church. Those forces have the church on edge and trying to decide what direction to go next. When a transition is forced upon you there are two natural reactions:
1) hunker down in the bunker and wait for the threat to go away or get tired of fighting.
2) adapt and come up with a big, bold new approach to address the changes that the organization needs to take.
The church needs to find a better way to do things to better connect with the society around them that has no intention of just going away. Over the next few weeks, I will share my observations about what the church can do to adapt. The message remains the same, but the approach and delivery system for that message can and does need to adjust.
On June 4, 1783, at the market square of a French village of Annonay, not far from Paris, a smoky bonfire on a raised platform was fed by wet straw and old wool rages. Tethered above, straining its lines, was a balloon 33 feet in diameter. In the presence of “a respectable assembly and a great many other people,” and accompanied by great cheering, the balloon was cut from its moorings and set free to rise majestically into the noon sky. Six thousand feet into the air it went — the first public ascent of a balloon, the first step in the history of human flight. It came to earth several miles away in a field, where it was promptly attacked by pitchfork-waving peasants and torn to pieces as an instrument of evil! – Today in the Word, July 15, 1993.
This story above illustrates just how hard it is for people to accept things that are new and foreign to them. I often get the sense this is where the church is today. We see the world around us changing, and we want to get sticks and attack the strange new things we see around us and label them as an “instruments of evil.” Now while there is plenty of stuff to be concerned about, everything is not evil. What makes things evil is the way they are used. Hiding in a bunker does not address the real issue. It may make you feel safe, but the threat is still there and the threat is real.
The church is threatened by the changes happening all around it. The church and mainline denominations are unsure how to relate to society in this strange new post-Christian world. One popular option is just to have a “this too shall pass approach to the changes. If we just wait this out, we will be ok.” If we just cut ministry down to the barebones and ration out the gifts of God, we can weather the storm. Is that really what God called us to do? Or does Jesus point us to trust in Him for the needs of tomorrow? Jesus say, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on? Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” Matthew 6:25ff
God did not give us a Spirit of Timidity
7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline. 8 So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. 9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 2 Timothy 1:7-9
Transitions are scary. They create anxiety. These times cause us to want to run and retreat, but God calls the Church to be bold in its witness to the world. We hold the keys to the Kingdom. We don’t face the threats and uncertainty of tomorrow alone we have behind us the power of Almighty God. Now is the time for church leaders to lead our people into the mission field which is right at the doors of our churches. It is time for the church to love those who are broken right outside our walls. It is time for the church to get a new bold vision for how we do mission and outreach in the world while at the same time guarding our the purity of our confessions. The world is ripe for the harvest. Hold on tight and let’s see where this wild ride takes us.
More on what I see as a possible direction and mission focus for the Church in the Northern Illinois District and beyond. As with any ideas about the future God needs to direct and lead His people into the future, not any man.