Change is inevitable! It’s the one thing I have learned in ministry. Change is the only true constant I have ever discovered. When I first took my vows of ordination 30 years ago, the bishop asked me a question: “Are you going on to perfection?” The only acceptable answer to that question is, “Yes.” But I didn’t realize then that going on to perfection meant that I was in for a life full of changes. I don’t like change. I want things to get to a good place and then stay the same. I’ve come to realize that the reason we so often hearken back to “the good old days” is that we want a time when things were somewhat predictable and patterned, but it is difficult to hold onto those “good old days.”
Some of the change I have experienced in my life is small … gradually growing older or slowly learning new skills. But many of the changes I have experienced are paradigm shifting. One of the biggest paradigm shifts is the reality that we no longer worship in our grandparent’s church. Church was once the locus of the community … it was the place where we focused our lives … around worship, fellowship and fun. It was where we went for our inspiration and our entertainment. But the church is no longer that for very many communities. As a matter of fact, the church is considered largely irrelevant for many people in our culture.
Historically, the church made a dramatic paradigm shift when, in 380 CE, Christianity was fully transformed from being a countercultural (outlawed) faith to being the official religion of the Roman Empire. From that moment through our modern era, the church has enjoyed not only protection by the government, but a place of prominence in most western nations for over 1,600 years. This form of Christianity has often been called Christendom (a combination of the words Christianity and Kingdom).
That is now changing, and we are in a post-Christendom era. As much as many of our politicians may appeal to their own understanding of the claims of Christianity, our world is simply no longer dependent upon Christianity as a central reality in our lives. For many, Christianity is simply irrelevant.
For the church, this has caused a shaking of our foundations. Our new house is in southern Georgetown, and we are not terribly far from a rock quarry. During the week sometime around midday, we will feel the house shudder as they blast in the quarry. The walls shake and the foundation reverberates with the blast that is happening. That’s what I feel like when paradigms start to shift and when change begins to occur. My foundation is shaking!
BUT SUCH CHANGE IS NOT ALWAYS BAD!
Yes, you read this correctly. Change is inevitable. More importantly, God is inevitably working through change to lead us on to perfection.
Vital Congregations abound, and we have many people who are addressing vitality within the church. Bishop Robert Schnase wrote a book several years ago called Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, and in that book, he taught us about churches that practice radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission and service and extravagant generosity. There are many others who are helping lead the church to a new reality … a new paradigm that is very different from the church in which I grew up.
My own thought here is that Christ is calling us back and beckoning us forward.
Christ is calling us back! Christ is calling us back to understand the radical nature of his teaching. He is calling us back to his radical nature of reaching out to those who are in the margins. He is calling us back to God’s providence where we can trust that God will provide for us if we will just “let go and let God” be God. He is calling us back with a warning that people who misinterpret “religion” as that which gives them power over others are threatened with the fires of hell. I often like to point out that the only people whom Jesus routinely condemned to hell were the religious leaders, so I usually start my day with the admonition to myself this is dangerous stuff … handle with care! Ultimately, Jesus is calling us back to the simple faith of following and trusting only in God.
And Christ is beckoning us forward! We are being called to be a church that reaches out in new ways. We are called to be a church that sees where the world needs a savior and offers that savior to the world. We are being called forward to be the leaven in the loaf as we give rise to the kingdom of God in the world. We are being called to welcome those who have been rejected … yes, even by the church.
Above all, we are being called to look for Christ in those whom we serve. One of the greatest paradigm shifts for me happened in the more recent past as I suddenly realized that Jesus wasn’t telling me to be Christ to the least of these … Jesus was telling me to serve the least of these and discover the Christ in them!
Change is so hard for me! Yet I know the bishop was right … it is the path on which I journey toward perfection. Change is inevitable, but so is the grace of God that passes all understanding! Let the foundations shake … the foundation upon which I stand is the foundation of God alone!