Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Dealing with Change at Church

Today is day three of our eighteenth week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures today are:
1 Samuel 21-22; 1 Chronicles 5; Acts 15; Psalm 52.

One unifying theme that I see running between these scriptures is the way that people deal with change.  Some people embrace change in their lives, while others resist change tooth and nail.  For several days, we've been reading about Saul's temper and violence whenever he's confronted with change.  He cannot accept that God has chosen David over him, so he lashes out against Jesse's son and against anyone who aids him. 

In Acts 15, the Jerusalem Council is all about how the church deals with change.  When the number of Gentiles began to grow, their numbers finally reached a point where their presence threatened the equilibrium of the then-mostly-Jewish church.  As long as there were only a few Gentiles present in the church, it was no big deal.  Now, however, there were so many that the Jews in the church felt that the power structure was tipping.  I experienced this in a small country church that I shepherded years ago.  When I first arrived at that church, the average attendance was 19.  Attendance topped out at around 50 by the time that I left.  In the meantime, there was a fair amount of struggle, because the "come-heres" and the "from-heres" had to figure out the changing dynamic of power within the church.  When the new people outnumbered the old guard, nothing was the same as it used to be.  People who were once leaders had to learn to accept new folks into the congregation, and had to turn over certain key positions to those new people.  Perhaps your church is dealing with "come-here" vs. "from-here" issues as well.  Hopefully, like the church did in Acts 15, your church will adopt a policy of receiving the "come-heres" with open arms, and will adapt to the change in order to follow God's great mission.

Psalm 52 speaks of the person who trusts in his own might, rather than trusting in God.  That person, confronted with change, turns to evil.  I have seen this so often in churches!  When people can't deal with change, they resist it to the point of choosing destructive behaviors, rather than accepting the transition that God brings.

Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man?
    The steadfast love of God endures all the day.
Your tongue plots destruction,
    like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit.
You love evil more than good,
    and lying more than speaking what is right. Selah
You love all words that devour,
    O deceitful tongue.

The result of this kind of behavior, David says, is that destruction comes upon the mighty person who chooses evil, instead of upon their would-be victim.  The church member who plots and schemes will bring calamity upon himself, rather than upon the ones that he sees as threats.

But God will break you down forever;
    he will snatch and tear you from your tent;
    he will uproot you from the land of the living. Selah
The righteous shall see and fear,
    and shall laugh at him, saying,
“See the man who would not make
    God his refuge,
but trusted in the abundance of his riches
    and sought refuge in his own destruction!”

The psalmist gives us an example of a godly attitude to have in the house of God.  When climate change takes place within the church, it's good to have a strategy for how to endure the shifting dynamics.

I am like a green olive tree in the house of God.
But I am like a green olive tree
    in the house of God.
I trust in the steadfast love of God
    forever and ever.
I will thank you forever,
    because you have done it.
I will wait for your name, for it is good,
    in the presence of the godly.

The hearty olive tree can grow where many other trees cannot.  It grows on mountainsides where soil is sparse.  It also grows well by the sea, and thrives in misty, salty air.  In other words, it's adaptable.  So the believer also needs to be adaptable when change comes to her life.  Rather than trusting in things always remaining the same, she needs to trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.  By being thankful, by patiently waiting on God in the presence of the godly, the believer becomes more and more like the olive tree, producing much fruit and overflowing with an abundance of oil (which in Scripture represents the Holy Spirit).  Just as the olive tree can live for hundreds of years, so the believer can endure the trials of life by having an Olive Tree Attitude.

Are you having trouble adapting to change in your church?  You have two choices: accept it or reject it.  Fight against it or embrace itLike Saul, you can let your anger destroy those around you, and even bring down your own family as well.  Or, like the church did at the Jerusalem Council, you can decide to accept and adapt to the changeThe psalmist says that boasting and evil, lies and deceit--these things will result in the destruction of the manipulative person.  But the one who abides in Christ like an olive tree abides in its root will endure.  Trusting in the steadfast love of God, they will bear fruit for the Lord as they endure forever.

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