The pace of change
Over September I have been reflecting on a major change; the replacement of my vintage David Brown tractor. I have previously been someone who has embraced change, indeed welcomed and encouraged it, yet this recent development has reminded me that change can also be uncomfortable and may involve letting go of the familiar. Perhaps it is a sign of age (I am also to become a grandfather in May), but using my old tractor became second nature and required little thinking. I will now need to learn a different approach to operating my new (35-year-old) tractor.
With my old tractor, I got used to the way to start it (or not, as often the case), the way to hook up a trailer, where the throttle needed to sit in order to tow the trailer up our hill, and how to gauge the amount of fuel required using a piece of wood. Deep down, I knew the day was approaching where I would need something more modern to cope with the demands of our machinery, nevertheless I am finding it difficult to let it go.
I wonder if this could be a metaphor for many churches? As I travel around and visit a variety of churches I am seeing that many of the methods that once bore fruit for the kingdom of God, are no longer giving us the same return. Whilst the gospel has not changed, we do need to reflect on how we communicate the hope of Jesus to our rural communities today in a way that our communities can both access and understand. As lovely as some of the old methods are, like my tractor, they may have passed their usefulness and serve nothing more than a nostalgic memory.
Changing my tractor has helped me appreciate how leaving behind the familiar, the inherited, can for many be a cause of much anxiety and even fear. I wonder if as church, we can sometimes be a little guilty of holding on to the past beyond its effectiveness to make a difference. Perhaps this ecclesiology is based on passages of scripture that remind us of the unchanging nature of God; we project these onto our favourite model of church, style of worship, or method of outreach, forgetting that our heavenly Father is also a God of creativity (Isaiah 43:19).
In leadership, we have a unique insight into both mindsets. We can be people of vision who are in front and able to see something of the opportunities, perhaps gaining a glimpse of the promised land. But we are also part of a worshiping community who from time to time may want to go back to the way things once were (Exodus 13:17) because it is familiar and the new generates anxiety, uncertainty and fear.
I wonder that as leaders we need to be a little more empathetic of those we lead, recognising that there is already so much change happening around them in the world which is fearful and uncertain. That the one place where they expect stability, the church, needs also to change, however how we go about this needs to be carefully thought about. We need to walk in their shoes for a bit, and gently help them see the benefits of change. It has taken my family over a year to convince me to replace my tractor; I have protested at various points and told them I like my old tractor, but as I have had to get the spanners out yet again, even I could see that it couldn't be repaired; it needed to be replaced. I shall miss her, but I now have a tractor with a cab to keep me dry and warm this winter!