Who Has God Called Us to Be?

On April 29, I participated in a live video-conference with the author of a book many church leaders are finding helpful.  The book is Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory by Tod Bolsinger.  The author compares our current context of the church to that of the journey of Lewis and Clark trying to find a water route across the United States to the Pacific Ocean.  Lewis and Clark could see the Rocky Mountains for miles, but they refused to notice the great change in front of them.  Like many of us in current times, they believed what was in front of them was the same as what was behind them.  They had expertise in navigating rivers by canoe, but they could not canoe over or through the Rocky Mountains to the west coast, the mountains were too wide and too high.  You simply cannot canoe up mountains.  Something had to change, but what? 

If you have been a member of a church for more than 20 years, you know from direct experience that there has been a significant change in the role of the church in people’s lives.  Attendance at many churches has continued to plummet because people are too tired from work and life Monday through Saturday, and there are even more activities that via for attention on Sunday morning.  In addition, just think of all that has drastically shifted since 9-11 (Fear and anxiety have increased; and, technology has drastically changed our lives with the Internet infiltrating our lives in the 1990’s and then Facebook and similar platforms since 2006).  How can the church respond?  I have a whole shelf of books about “renewing mission” and change in the church.  There is great information in them.  But…people do not like change, especially when too much is changing or anxiety over change is high.

Tod Bolsinger has some great insights and practical tips about changes in the church.  He compares leaders in the church with canoers who have run out of water with no route in front of them, no map, and no quick fix or easy answer, just like Lewis and Clark as they faced crossing the Rocky Mountains.  However, Bolsinger sees this as good news, a divine moment, an opportunity to clearly express what it means to follow Jesus.

The author outlines several fundamental principles about the change we face.  Two are really useful for everyone facing changes in our daily lives. 

  1.  People do not resist change, they resist loss.

In other words, people are not being stubborn when resisting necessary changes.  Instead, they are feeling anxious and unsettled and even grieving what is being lost when something changes. 

2. Don’t start with change, but start with what must never change. 

This means identifying the core values of the congregation.  The core values are like the DNA of the congregation.  It is what we are really all about.  Once you have identified what will never change, then everything else is open to change.

These two fundamental principals were real ah-ha moments for me.  Hopefully they bring some measure of assurance that there is a way to navigate well all the changes we face nowadays.  God has created us and the church for a purpose.  The way we engage in that purpose will change.  I look forward to working together to identify St. John’s core values as we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ.  Together with Jesus, we can navigate the mountains and valleys of life and live out God’s purpose for this congregation.

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