Change Is Hard

It is.

Not just convincing people to change, not just getting them to go along with it.  But actually helping them to see the possibilities, the beauty, the potential, the danger, so that they don’t just agree to it but demand it, insist on it, and stop at nothing to accomplish it?

That’s hard.

Like many traditional denominational congregations, we struggle.  We’ve grown.  We’re financially stable.  But our population is overwhelmingly post-retired age.  Active involvement and engagement in ministry to and with people outside of our doors is very limited.  Not just by age and energy and the other challenges of aging, but perhaps at a fundamental level just by forgetfulness.  Forgetfulness, perhaps, about what it feels like to be engaging new people and inviting them into our lives both privately and as a corporate entity.  Forgetful about how we can still be a part of that sort of community regardless of our age or health condition.  Forgetful that people need to be invited in.  Not always to church, but certainly always into relationship (on that topic, this is a great little appetite-whetter !)  Forgetful that there’s more to look towards to than making it through the week, making it to church on Sunday morning and maybe Bible study during the week.

Those are good things.  Necessary things.  But as we get older we focus on those touchstones, on those milemarkers, on those accomplishments.  We focus more diligently on being careful, watching our step, not doing anything that might lead us to our final breaths any faster than absolutely necessary.  We focus on preserving what we spent our lives building and creating and accumulating.  And perhaps we forget to look up.  Look around.  To see that there are people in other stages of life and other situations – stages and situations that we once were in ourselves, and that they’re just as self-absorbed in their moments, their challenges, their reality as we are in ours.  It’s easy not to realize unless there is change, intentional, desired, persistent change, we continue in our circuit of habits and routines and preferences and they in theirs and never the two shall meet.

I’m frustrated and irritated with my denominational polity because of their emphasis on planting new congregations rather than standing with the ones who are already here.  Struggling, but still here after decades and sometimes (like ours) after a century and more.  I’m frustrated that they find talk of new churches more exciting than grappling with how to help the ones we have.

Like ours.

But I understand at another level, too.  At one level, planting new churches is a focus, a direction, a kind of change to rally people around.  Or perhaps to rally the larger congregations around, since most smaller congregations (which are the overwhelming majority in our denomination) don’t think about planting another congregation when they’re trying to save their own.

And I understand better and better that the statistical wisdom that it’s far easier to start something new than change something existing is very true.  Very real.  Very tangible.  That you can’t want and pray and model and wish and dream people into change easily or quickly.  Sometimes you can force them, which most times still ends in failure.  But it’s hard to inspire it.  To cast a vision that people are willing to risk things for – their comfort and routines and traditions – like they did earlier in their lives when they threw themselves into building campaigns and other initiatives.  When they could better see the connection between what they hoped to achieve and the risks and change necessary to stand a chance of reaching it.

It undoubtedly is easier to start from scratch.  But for everyone out there struggling for change, for something different, for a vision bigger than just to keep on keepin’ on, don’t give up.  We’re blessed in that, despite our sometimes stubborn insistence and nearsightedness to the contrary, we aren’t in this alone. Not by a long shot.  God is loose in the world and not even the most regimented routines or cherished traditions can stand against the Holy Spirit.  Keep loving people.  Try not to confuse confusion or uncertainty for stubbornness.  Keep trusting that change can happen.  That odds can be defied.  That trends can be bucked.     It happens.  Not often, perhaps, but it happens.  By the grace of the wild, boundless Spirit of God at loose in creation, it happens.

And I’m praying for that, personally and for the people I serve and love, and for the people who need to hear, or hear again, or hear correctly about the God who made them and died for them and calls to them now.  All of that – all of them – are worth changing for.

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