Every person and organization goes through a period of transition. We are facing one in the organization I serve. As part of that pending transition, I have been nominated as one of three candidates to lead the next chapter in our district’s story. What is different about our election process is that it is nothing like the last presidential campaign, thank goodness. There may be a temptation to go out and campaign and gather a following. We don’t get to design yard signs and cool campaign buttons. Nor do we come up with catchy campaign slogans like, “In your Heart, you Know he’s Right.” – Barry Goldwater. Or Jimmy Carter’s, “Not just Peanuts.”
But that is not how our process works. It is not about catchy slogans or impossible promises of prosperity, nor is it a popularity contest.
Like a congregation calling its next Shepherd, it is a process bathed in prayer. Prayer by the nominees asking for God’s will and the insight to discover His direction for His Church. Prayer by the congregations seeking God’s will in determining His choice to shepherd our district. The only thing that resembles the presidential campaign is that in March votes will be cast and a nominee will be elected. It is not about shifting power from one side of our divided church body so that one gains an upper hand because it is not our church anyway, it’s God’s. It is a time of spiritual discernment. We have five months to spend time in prayer and seek God’s will for this little corner of His kingdom. While our future leader is uncertain, it is secure, because God is directing it.
It is a time to celebrate what God has done while we look to the future.
Our leader, President Dan P. Gilbert 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.” With that transition comes uncertainty.
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.”
Our district has had twelve years of steady and consistent leadership. With this pending change, we could be 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 body of Christ on edge and trying to decide what direction to go next. When a transition is forced upon you there are two natural roads to choose:
1) Cautious and fearful:
hunker down in the bunker and wait for the threat to go away or get tired of fighting.
2) Confident and hopeful:
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 an improved 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 word 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 aircraft 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 danger 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 said, “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
“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 be bold in its witness, and hopeful in regards to carrying out the mission God has entrusted to His people. We should be energized by the challenge ahead because the world has never needed the church more than now. At the same time, we are uncompromising in the purity of our confessions because that is the foundation of the life-saving message of Jesus Christ. The world is ripe for the harvest.