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Viewpoints

So I'm attending this class on systems when the leader shone a light on a frequent and long standing paradox:  "Who do leaders call for change, and then punish those who make it happen?"

My primary profession is service as a pastor in a mainline denomination of faith in Jesus Christ.  For decades the statistics of many "Christian" bodies of faith have shown decline.  Concern has driven leaders of the hierarchy to put together great sounding words and speeches calling for transformation, calling for change, calling for revitilzation.  They try to protect an image of looking forward and casting a vision they hope the pastors, people and churches will adopt and fulfill.  They call for new methods, new approaches, new spirit, and new openness all in the hopes of staving off disaster.  I am sure they are sincere in their desire to restore vitality, relevance and to reverse the decline.  But for me and others it is frustrating to see them call for change and then not stand behind or support those who actualy try to accomplish those goals.

For a while I thought they were naive.  It seemed to me they believed all they had to do was say it and everybody would just fall into line and do it...and cheerfully.  Having had to lead people through the challenges of change with several congregations and situations from attendance to building, to program, and worship I know how difficult it is to accomplish.  And though everyone says they want to grow, the truth is change brings anxiety.  It is not easy to accomplish and never happens without challenges.

The professor surprised me with a truth I knew but had forgotten.  He said "When growth happens don't be surprised when the hierarchy doesn't support it."  I asked him why they don't stand behind fulfillment of their call to arms and he said "They are part of the homeostasis fo the system.  Change disrupts the system."  He was so mater of fact, like it was a simple fact.  That was a little upsetting to a fulfillment/"do it" guy like me.  But then I remembered the words of a favorite professor of New Testament in seminary.  Teaching about how and why Jesus Christ ran into opposition from the leaders of the faith.  He said "Those who are most invested in the way things are tend to be least likely to accept change" (even if the change brings about fulfillment of their hope).

Zap!  The lights came on.  Every church says they want to grow.  But we all know that we don't really like change.  The disruption brings anxiety, uncertainty, and worry.  In my ministry I have always been concerned with helping people find ways to improve their lives and struggled with how some almost prefer the familiar misery to the change even when the promise of freedom, peace, joy, better is on the line, so powerful was their fear.  And I could never understand how increased attendance, vitality, outreach and activity was not received as good news.  To me people coming alive with the real joy of faith is what ministry is all about.  How could the leadership not embrace us realizing our purpose and potential?

Lest you think this is just about church I suggest this is true about most institutions and organizations in U.S. Society.  I have seen this sort of reaction occur in Education, Politics, Business and Industry as well.  Leaders have risen to the top through the system as it is.  To change it can be perceived as a threat.  Of course they would fear the very thing they and the system wants and needs.  Does that mean change shouldn't happen?  No!  God does not intend us to fall into oblivion, nor to enjoy the ride.

Part of the solution is not just effecting the change but helping people to negotiate it with you, even the leadership above you.  Regardless of the organization or circumstances if we help each other get past the fear we can move together through to restoration, renewal, vitality and success.  The good news is joy can be ours, but most likely wen we get there together.