Transformation P.S.

One additional thought on the transformation stuff. This is not original, nor is it new, but I think it’s worth repeating.

I said it earlier and people echoed it in comments: people resist change in the church, to the point that they will sometimes threaten to leave, and/or they will predict a mass exodus from the church, if XYZ takes place.

If we’re really serious about doing ministry in a new way—if the survival of the church in the 21st century depends on it—and if we trust that we’re going in a faithful direction, we have to accept that some will not want to go along. People will lash out, often motivated by fear, anxiety, or a perceived loss of power. And when they threaten to take their ball and go home, we (that is, the pastor and the other leadership) have to be willing to say, like Westley from The Princess Bride: “As you wish.”

The interesting thing about “As you wish” is, it’s a euphemism in the movie. When Westley says, “As you wish” to Buttercup, what he really means is, “I love you.”

We can’t be held hostage by people who are resistant to change. But we can bless them on their journey, if their path must diverge from ours. As you wish. I love you. I see that you don’t want to go where we’re going, and I want you to be free to find the place where you feel that you belong.

I am fortunate that I’ve only received the “I’m leaving” once in my pastoral career (I guess there’s one advantage to being an associate pastor for so long—people usually take their ultimatum ‘to the top”!) I said very calmly (on the outside, cough), “Please know that I will NOT try to talk you out of that. So be very sure of yourself before you make that statement. You need to do what you need to do, and I will be sorry to see you go.”

They didn’t leave.

As you wish.

Easier. Said. Than. Done.

Image: “As you wish” is probably a more helpful statement to make than the one above. But that would be fun…

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9 thoughts on “Transformation P.S.

  1. Rachel Heslin says:

    A mantra I need to keep repeating to myself, usually when I see people making what seem to be unnecessarily self-defeating choices (although it also fits your less-destructive scenario) is that everyone has his or her own journey to make. Allowing others to make that journey (even if watching them sometimes makes me want to shake them and say, “It doesn’t have to be that hard!”) is, in itself, an act of faith and love.

  2. I know this isn’t really what you are talking about, but it is worth saying that sometimes the group that threatens to leave decides instead to force the pastor out. And it usually works.

    Sometimes loving them is not enough. I hate to say it but it is true.

    I’m not saying that the pastor should roll over to save her/his job–I didn’t. But there is a risk that is taken.

    I’ve been studying the Luke text for this week, and it means something different to me than it did 14 months ago.

    • MaryAnn says:

      Yes, my friend.

      It’s an important addendum.

      It helps to have a goodly number of critical people standing with the pastor, but even that is not necessarily enough to save her.

  3. marciglass says:

    I think sometimes the church is also held hostage with fears of people leaving. Which is perhpaps, different than people actually leaving.

    Even though I doubt my congregation reads your blog, discretion indicates I shouldn’t disclose too much of our situation here. But, suffice it to say, people are paralyzed and afraid to move forward out of fear of what some people will think.

    But in the instances where the Session has moved to make some important claims for the Gospel,moving past that fear, the church has largely been supportive and energized by the change.

    Except for a few, to whom we said, sadly, “as you wish”.

  4. lukeluke says:

    While we are talking about wisdom hidden in movies, I have always loved how Ben Kenobi said “You must do what you feel is right, of course” to Luke when Luke was saying that he needed to go home and work on the farm instead of embarking on the adventure with Ben. Instead of pleading and trying to “talk” Luke in to going, he let Luke make his own choice. Inevitably, that approach strengthened Luke’s resolve when he ultimately decided to go with Ben, because it really was Luke’s choice, not Ben’s!

    It’s as if people feel the need to represent an idea, because our training is that every thesis must have an anti-thesis. In your example; “I am not happy with XYZ, so I am leaving” is a very easy statement to say, especially when that person thinks there will be a “counter” to their argument. When you allow their statement the opportunity to stand on it’s own, that is when you discover how strong it really is, (because it doesn’t have a counter argument to support it!).

    In my mind, that is the role of the spiritual advisor. “The world is a spiritual place. To force it is to lose it”.

  5. Sue says:

    I find this all very interesting from an “average congregant” perspective. Coming from a church which has seen its fair share of “drama” I have found myself on both sides of the various issues. However, never have I considered personally leaving – even just to escape the drama. I used to be the one who would just pray for dear life to have everyone “just get along”. Now I understand that sometimes its better for folks who refuse to understand or embrace the way the Spirit is moving in a congregation to move on – this also applies to how the Spirit is moving a particular pastor to certain actions regarding a congregation. While there are times when the goals of a pastor and congregation may diverge, the congregation needs to respect that the pastor and church leadership have been called to that position for the express purpose of shepherding and leading…congregants need to allow them to do this even (and especially??) when it involves change.

  6. anne says:

    i don’t think it’s a fearful thing when people choose to leave a congregation. when i joined a particular congregation i did not promise ‘ ’til death us do part.’ i think the Holy Spirit brings people into congregations and sends them on from time to time.

    twice i’ve left when i wasn’t moving—only moving on. once when, after years of feeling out of place, the pastor mentioned in a sermon that he’d only prayed privately less than a handful of times in recent years. suddenly i realized why i’d felt out of place.

    then i moved from a congregation that had been large when i joined it but then had grown to be tremendous. i just felt that i needed a smaller place in which to worship.

    both times i kept in touch w/ the congregation as a whole and with many friends within the congregation. i only wish those churches well and i think they also only wish me well. what’s to fear. sometimes we fit for a time, sometimes forever.

  7. Roy Howard says:

    Well said. More pastors need to heed your advice.

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