Melissa Etheridge, in her popular song, Change, writes, “And so it goes this too shall pass away…the only thing that stays the same is change.” Yeah, that’s about right, isn’t it? Everything around us seems to be changing and at an ever-increasing rate.
Solomon, the writer of Ecclesiastes, spoke of change when he wrote, “For everything there is season and a time for every purpose under heaven.” (3:1) Change means letting something go in order to embrace something else, something new.
The leaves on our trees in Nashville are nearly past their peak of color and soon will cover the ground. I hate to see them go because I know the trees will look bleak without the foliage to cover them. But, unless these leaves let go of their branches the new ones destined to take their place just won’t make it. And so they fall. And after a while I am glad for spring!
William Bridges, in his best-selling book, Managing Transitions, says it isn’t really change that we resist, but all the transitions change forces us to navigate. Bridges writes about transition as a three-fold process: letting go, stepping into the wilderness, and embracing a new beginning. He uses the biblical story from Exodus to illustrate this.
One could say The United Methodist Church is in the midst of severe change right now. I just spent a week with our bishops and listened with great interest to their conversations about the Call to Action and the change it proposes. I listened as our leaders wrestled with the reality that our former (and even current) ways of being in ministry with the world just do not seem to be working well anymore. The gap is ever widening between church and culture. We’re having a hard time letting go of some stuff and our reluctance to change is hurting others deeply, especially those who look to us for Good News!
The church no longer has a hold on our culture. Modernity is dead. Post-modernity is fading fast and what is emerging in its place is at best hazy and undefined. I’m sure William Bridges would say, “Yes, wildernesses are like that.” Seems we’re right smack dab in the midst of one.
A group of us visited beautiful Cheekwood gardens near Nashville last weekend. It was an incredibly beautiful autumn day, the best I can remember for a long time. We walked the Sculpture Trail, which displayed a massive outdoor evocative-type sculpture every couple hundred feet or so. I didn’t quite get the point of most of them, but one in particular gave me pause. It was a huge fractured slab of granite laid out over a span of thirty feet with these words, engraved in Latin across the pieces:
“The order of the present is the disorder of the future.” French Revolutionary, Saint-Just.
It got me thinking again about change. My attempts to keep this present reality ordered are well-intentioned, but as the present gives way to the future a re-ordering happens that seems to fracture almost everything I try to maintain.
As a leader I am slowly learning that disorder is not only okay but preferable if change is to happen. Life is messy. Ministry is messy. Leadership is messy. None of it ever seems to go according to plan. We have to try and fail repeatedly if we are ever to succeed at anything. And then once we succeed we need to let go and start failing again. We have to lose our leaves with their shiny brilliance if new leaves are to take their place. It’s the way God intended and it makes life a whole lot more interesting, don’t you think?
So, what’s a person to do with all this change going on within and around us? Hold on to the present for dear life? Fight to keep the current structures in place? Work harder to maintain the status quo? Dig in our heels and hope for the best? I’m thinking there’s got to be a better way. And I think I found it!
In my devotional reading this morning I found this gem from Isaiah 43:19-20. God said through the prophet Isaiah to the people of Israel who were enduring constant bouts of disorder and change:
Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert. Be present. I’m about to do so something brand new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? (The Message)
There it is! There’s our response to change! Be alert. Be present. Be on the lookout. Be expectant! Isaiah’s message was intended to bring God’s people (you and me) a sense of hope (not anxiety or fear) about change.
Look at the beautiful leaves. Take in their color. Then let them go and look for the new thing coming right behind them. Pray, work hard, expect things will change, work for the change, let go, and trust that God is right smack dab in the middle of it all and out in front of it all!
As we prayerfully move toward General Conference 2012 let’s be encouraged to stand firmly in this present moment, keep doing the best we can do with what we have been given by God, be fully aware of what’s going on within and around us, and at the same time keep an expectant eye out for what God is about to do! And when it comes embrace it, relish it, celebrate it, and then be willing to let go of it again.
It’s like the title of a book I saw recently, “Change is Good… You Go First” I have a better idea. Let’s go together with God!
What do you think churches are still clinging to that they need let go of for the future? How do you think churches need to change the way they do ministry?