Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Death, Taxes, and Change

It is often said that the only certain things in life are death and taxes.  The older I get, the more that reality sets in.  However, there is another item that is certain, and that is change.  Our world is changing, like it or not.  The best political decisions of the 1930's would fail to be effective in todays culture of  global information, and the best laid plans of today will find themselves in need of overhaul before a single generation passes.  It is inevitable that we must change and adapt to survive, and substantial change is necessary if we wish to thrive!

Ed Stetzer tells of a doctor's study in which those researched were given a diagnosis to either "change or die."  It actually sounds grim.  My mind immediately went to hearing "Live like you are dying" for the first time, or some movie made for the lifetime network where a dad is making videos for a son he will not raise.  We think of what great motivation it would be, given a negative, pessimistic prognosis.  We would cram as much as possible into the time left.  However, the study showed a completely different response.  In fact, when given their "change or die" ultimatum, 90% were able to make no lasting change.  Really?  Your life is on the line and you cant put down the doughnut?  Is that salt really calling your name?  Can you really not put down the remote and get some exercise?

We have developed a consumer culture and made every decision about personal comfort.  Sadly, our churches have taken the same path.  In fact, maybe to a higher degree.  For generations churches have resisted change.  The largest demographic group, (typically the baby-busters) have made leadership decisions that made them comfortable.  For many churches, these decisions resulted in growth and success in the 1970's and 1980's.  That was when that generation was raising children and reaching their own generation.  However, as younger generations came along and didn't respond to ministry in the  "buster bottle", churches began to do one of two things.  Many made changes, realizing that for the Gospel to be propagated to future generations, it would have to be put in a context to their lifestyle.  These churches are continuing to change and develop new and creative methods and develop leaders for emerging generations.

Others, however, resisted change in return for comfort.  Pastors who instigated change were forced out.  Children in the "parsonage" became a burden, and finances were only given if "certain needs" of the congregation were met.  In other words, they chose to die.  So now we find ourselves in a unique place in church history.  We are closing close to 4000 churches a year.  Even the legendary Catholic church is closing parishes at an alarming rate.  We have created an atmosphere where we, like the physicians in the study, must either find a convincing method to bring the reality home, or allow for dignity in death.  The sad part is, either decision is just that;  a decision.  It is hard to imagine choosing death, but by resisting change in place of comfort we have done just that.

Revitalization is possible, and happens regularly, but it is a choice.  And not just the choice of a pastor.  The people must chose life.  They must choose change.

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