Transformation within the Church

As I mentioned in my last post, two weeks ago I attended a presbytery-sponsored training on how to lead congregations through transformation and change. I am trying to distill my experience into a summary that’s meaningful and manageable that I can share with the session (church council) next week. Because I participated in the training, our congregation has an opportunity to form a team to work on these issues—including receiving bimonthly training next year.

Here are the relevant bits, gleaned from this event and past events, that I’m still chewing on:

The church needs to stop seeing itself as a provider of spiritual services. Our job is not to make members, but disciples who seek to follow in the way of Jesus.

Churches begin to decline when the needs of their members becoming the end-all be-all and they lose sight of the community in which they live. In fact, the presenters told about some redevelopment work in the Lutheran church in which a condition of the grant was that the pastor had to spend 50% of his/her time out in the community, connecting and talking with people.

Seminaries talk about how we’re in a post-Christian age, yet they do not teach us how to be church in this new reality, how to cast a vision and help a congregation get on board. Instead they teach us how to maintain programs and be a caretaker for the congregation (not unimportant tasks). So we are on new ground.

Transformation starts with ourselves. If we are spending all our time keeping our members happy (they call this “the happy trap”), rather than equipping others to be in ministry with us AND tending to our own spiritual lives, we will crash and burn. Loved this quote from Wayne Muller’s Sabbath (which is an excellent book):

Without rest, we respond from a survival mode, where everything we meet assumes a terrifying prominence. When we are driving a motorcycle at high speed, even a small stone in the road can be a deadly threat. So, when we are moving faster and faster, every encounter, every detail inflates in importance, everything seems more urgent than it really is and we react with sloppy desperation.

Visionary leadership sets a realistic pace. Charge ahead too fast and nobody’s with you; wait for everyone to get on board and you never get anywhere. This is something I’m thinking a lot about. There is a general excitement about the future at the congregation I serve. We’ve seen some growth in the past year, as well as some clear deepening of relationships and

”Spiritually mature Christians are willing to be inconvenienced for the sake of the gospel.” I realize how often in the church we water down this fact in order to be palatable to the culture. It is hard for me to call people to the “big jobs” at the church. Why? Part of it is the vocabulary of the church. We talk about filling volunteer slots rather than living the faith.

If you take transformation seriously, things will change, and some people will not want to go along. Conflict is inevitable, and it is often a sign that things are cooking and that you need to keep going. People may come to you and threaten to leave (“and take my pledge with me”). If your vision is faithful to where you feel the Spirit leading, then you need to be able to let the person go. Otherwise you are giving in to extortion.

And finally: all of this is easier said than done.

Image: Hey, it’s a cliche but it works.


6 thoughts on “Transformation within the Church

  1. anne says:

    i woke up this morning wondering if i had slipped off of the blue room distribution list. i miss having the chance to see the world through your eyes on a more or less daily basis, so i was glad to see this posting come in.

    what you say as a pastor makes me hungry to know more about what my own pastor is thinking/feeling/experiencing on these same kinds of topics. but my pastor is less into personal story-telling (woe is me for i THRIVE on examples as a way to understand the theology).

  2. Rachel Heslin says:

    I love the paradigm shift from providing services to helping others join us in living a life of service.

  3. ashley goff says:

    this has jeff krehbiel, ashley goff, and church of the pilgrims written all over it. inbox us.

  4. marciglass says:

    I have noticed lately that the energy in our church is decidedly NOT in the programming that is church-centered. Our energy is in the outreach program we started this year with our neighborhood elementary school. That energy is carrying over into church things too, but it is clear where the “life” is at church right now.

    Lots to ponder. Thanks!

  5. Geoff McLean says:

    I believe that the first issue a Pastor needs to deal with in Transformation is making sure that they are personally committed to the goal of transformation. When we lead a church towards something new it means that we have to personally give up a great deal as pastor. We have to give up old and frankly easier ways of doing ministry. We have to be willing to give up some of the traditions that we value. The hardest sacrifice we have to make is that of our safety and security. Leading a church towards change means that we are in the hot seat. Even if we have teams that lead change we are the figurehead of that change. People will not only say “I’m going to leave and take my pledge with me” but will also beat the drums of, “let’s get rid of the pastor so we can save our church from all this new transformed stuff.” Yes we can build understanding of the need for change but I’m amazed at the human tendency to want panic and set things back the way they have always been.

  6. […] additional thought on the transformation stuff. This is not original, nor is it new, but I think it’s worth […]

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