By Rev. Dale Cockrum | Inland District Superintendent
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n the last several Inland Steeples (part 1, part 2, part 3), I’ve been sharing a conversation I had with new pastors at the Clergy Transition Workshop, identifying how I measure pastoral ministry, my own and those of the colleagues with whom I serve the churches of the district. Mary Huycke, the leader of the event, challenged me to name my deepest convictions about ministry. Here is number four:
4. Ministry helps people deal with change.
My fourth basic conviction about ministry is that we must help the people of our churches respond appropriately to change.
We live in a world that is changing rapidly. The pace of change is increasing exponentially, and many people in our churches are overwhelmed. One of the ways church folk respond is by essentially demanding that their church be the one place in the world that never changes. I do believe we worship a God who is eternally the same. But our world does change, and the church must change, too – not by giving away what is central to our faith but by adapting our means to that unchanging end.
Some people prefer the King James Bible because they really believe “If it was good enough for Jesus…” Yet somehow the church managed without it for over 1700 years. The organ was vilified as an “instrument of the devil” through much of the 1800’s, yet now some folk can’t imagine worship without it.
The only thing that doesn’t change is change itself, so if we are to have a fighting chance of reaching the unchurched around us in our communities, we have to help our church members find healthy ways of dealing with change. Ken Haugk wrote a great book called Antagonists in the Church; but often times, even he says, the people we think of as antagonists are just afraid, and some caring conversations and remembering together our core convictions and purpose as a church can open a lot of doors.
I have really benefited from the book I’m suggesting for this ministry conviction: Leading Change, by John Kotter. He offers some important steps pastors and lay leaders can take to walk a church through needed change, the first of which is to establish a sense of urgency. People will not change if they don’t see the need, and sometimes we need to turn up the heat by identifying and discussing crises, potential crises, or opportunities. We can’t do this work by ourselves (I already addressed the need to form teams), and here again, a guiding coalition can help us create and communicate a vision of our life together if we make this change. Kotter also encourages us to plan for and create short-term wins to make the benefits of a change real for those who might otherwise resist it.
Change is never easy, but a big part of our ministry, and an important part of our ministry, is to identify the changes a church must make if it is to remain relevant and vital in its setting.