There is a great demand for change happening in our country. The pages of the Washington Post are covered with quotes from people seeking change. Our television programs are intercepted with candidates promising us this change. And, after every caucus or primary has ended, the results show that what people want more than anything else is change. This change is producing three very different frontrunners for the Oval Office: a wounded veteran, a woman, and an African American. I love the diversity of the race. For the first time, there is a very good chance that our next President is either going to be a woman or an African American.
People want change. People are demanding change. And, the political machines are listening. Every candidate is trying to promise a little change or a lot of change.
Change is the one constant in life. Our bodies change as we get older. Our eyesight changes. Our jobs change. Our children change. Our neighborhoods change. Our schools change. Our grocery stores change. Our diets change. Change happens. Yet, not everyone or every organization is willing to change.
The church seems to be the one institution where people fight against change instead of adapting a willingness to change when needed. And, I believe that many people have sought change within the church. They have asked for changes to be made that would make the church more accomodating, more passionate, more hospitable, more open, more joyful, more relevant. Few churches have been willing to listen. Many of the churches that have made some necessary changes are growing while the majority of the churches that have refused to change are declining or even about to close because people are holding on to the programs that mean something to them while failing to meet the needs of the new neighbors. Worship styles are held hostage by musicians who have been directing for decades. And, the people on the inside have forgotten that the reason they exist is for the people on the outside - that they are called to serve the people around them.
I have just finished a book, Why Christian, written by Douglas John Hall. Hall writes,
"So far as the church is concerned, what is lost in highly institutionalized Christianity is inevitably the movement-quality biblical church. As the word established itself suggests, in the established church it is precisely movement that has to be avoided. Most people do not want to belong to something that is moving, changing, in flux; they want to be part of something stable and staionary, steadfast, permanent. In fact, the establishment of religions is always partly the result of the human desire to have, in teh midst of life's changes, something that seems solid and constant. That is why so many Christians today (and not only Christians) are upset by changes occurring in the churches.
But life is change; and when the churches refuse to change they always tend to cut themselves off from life. More importantly, they are likely to cut themselves off from the living God, whose love toward the world requires constant attention to the here and now...So "movement" is not only a matter of the church's structure, it is bound up with its very message and mission. When the church opts for institutional forms that deny or impede movement, it is putting a stumbling block in the way of God's communication with the world."
Perhaps Hall's words resonate with me because I serve a church that failed to change for decades, losing 90% of its membership as a result. One would not have known that the membership had dropped so much by looking at the programs, staff or budget, however. The church hung on to the things that meant a lot to them, failing to see that no one was responding to the programs - that lives were not being transformed. Many of the programs had to go as a result of the building program, and the church has experienced more growth in recent months than it has in a long time - with the smallest staff and budget and absolutely no building.
Lives are being transformed.
Change is happening.
But, we had to let go. We had to make room for God. We had to take a cue from the Early Church's playbook - preach the Gospel as passionately as you can, enjoy fellowship with one another, make sure that everyone knows they are welcome, care for anyone around you who has a need, invite people to repent - to change their life, and watch as people are added to the congregation.
To borrow the words of my colleague, Paul Nixon, "I Refuse to Serve a Dying Church." The only way a church can stop dying is to change - to let go of what is making it sick and to embody the practices that lead to health and wholeness.
Our country is demanding change in the White House.
I believe many are also asking for changes in our churches. May we, as clergy and laity, have the wisdom to listen to their voices and to open wide the doors. There is way too much at stake for us to remain silent or continue to adopt the status quo.