Reconciling with Change

Date posted: Wednesday 20 June 2018

There’s an old joke about Lutherans: How many Lutherans does it take to change a lightbulb? Answer: Change? CHANGE?!!!


Our Gospels are filled with change. God walking with disciples one-on-one, not out there somewhere. God healing preaching, teaching. Then death, resurrection, and a new beginning for us all. When Jesus left, the Holy Spirit came. By the Power of the Spirit, Jesus said God would accomplish more through them than when Jesus was with them. (John 14:12). And they did!


Think about that! God did more with the disciples than Jesus himself did. If you remember doubting Thomas, or denying Peter, that’s hard to believe, but there it is! Those are big changes in the world and in each of those disciples.


If you look around at life today, you see nothing but change. Some changes are agonizingly slow. Some changes come much more quickly. But God can use any change to make the world better if we trust. God is a master of change and since God created it, change is normal. Only God is changeless, and some theologians even argue about that.


The challenge of change

If change is God’s plan for living, why do Lutherans hate change so much? Well, it is not so much change that we Lutherans hate, I think, but unexpected change. Most of us enjoy the change of the seasons. But unexpected change is different. 50% more people in church on a Sunday morning may feel great, but if it happens week after week, it can cause unpleasant changes from “my pew spot is gone” to a group of folks wanting a new style of service. Changes bring challenges; challenges are seldom easy – or fun.


Have we Lutherans always resisted change? No, our churches were founded by immigrants willing to embrace change of country, language, and government. They understood in a new country most things are different. They crossed seas, left gorgeous old churches behind to worship in simple framed buildings and log cabins. They embraced change for a new, better life. Those changes worked because these Lutheran ancestors worked hard and trusted God. Our ancestors were resilient.

But modern-day descendants, ironically, seem much less resilient than their ancestors. Oftentimes, they hate changes in church structure, building, and worship. So how can we Lutherans reconcile this love of sameness with the ever-quickening pace of 21st century life? How do leaders make change easier to swallow? Without change, congregations can’t meet the needs of members and non-members. How can we help churches recall and embrace the resilience of their founders?


What we can do

First, we can remind folks change is normal. It’s not changing that’s unusual and unnatural. Have you known folks who refuse to change? They never grow or learn, and end up sad, broken people. People of faith, though, thrive through massive changes. The children of Israel did, the first disciples did. Early Christians were despised by the Roman Empire then embraced by it. Catholics pushed Martin Luther from their church to start another.


Second, we can’t just let change “happen.” Change has to be recognized. Churches have to meet the challenges of 21st century life head on. Change can still knock us Lutherans over the head with a 2x4, but if we pay attention, we can duck or at least put on a helmet. Occasionally we can even grab that 2x4 as it swings at us to build a new ministry. Nearly every change means new opportunity. To respond, we churches need immediate and speedy change if needed, but mostly slow steady change in the right directions.


Third, we must help change be bearable. Sometimes change is for the worse. And for a third of church folks, the so-called “late-adopters,” change will always feel worse. Sometimes we can’t avoid change: in many fields, knowledge is now doubling in months, not in decades or centuries like the past.


Few churches would go back to the days of hand-pump organs. And, few churches would get rid of their video screens. We must re-frame the “all change is bad” refrain that we hear. To refuse to change is to grow brittle, crumble, and die. We know businesses, people, and churches like that. May God give us faith through changes we choose as well as those that we don’t.


The Rev. Glen Bickford

Interim Pastor

First, Rush City