For most active Christians, church offers benefits that go beyond the spiritual provisions of regular worship attendance. Church provides a haven into which we can withdraw, where we are surrounded by our church family and a very comforting sense of familiarity. It is a solid, unwavering foundation in a stressful, ever-shifting world.
This sense of familiarity often is enforced by unwritten, but very rigid, rules. No matter your denomination, I’d wager there’s little details, expectations, that no-one dares change without risking the wrath of someone in the congregation.
I once heard it joked that the best way to move a piano from one side of a sanctuary to the other is in slow, small-enough increments that by the time it reaches its destination, everyone will swear that’s where it’s always been. With any luck it can be done in the tenure of one pastor.
We love our familiarity. That means there’s one word that borders on blasphemy for many of us: change. And, for many of our community’s faithful, change is arriving.
No, no-one’s taking away your favorite worship song. And there will still be chicken casserole at the next fellowship meal, like it or not. But, for an unusually large number of our local congregations, pastoral posts either recently were or soon will be taken over by new ministers.
This transition period can be unsettling, and downright dangerous, for congregations. Saying goodbye to a beloved pastor is painful. And, if we don’t get everything we’re expecting in the new pastor we may be tempted to walk away — to another congregation, or from church altogether.
Here’s the kicker: the new pastor is never going to be exactly what we expect. Never.
Each of us is imbued with different talents, skills, experiences and passions — all placed within our lives to be plucked up and used in God’s timing for God’s will. As Paul tells us: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.” 1 Corinthians 12:4-6
The new minister will be different from the old — just as we are different from each other — because God made in us a great variety of tools for his use.
How, then, should we handle all this change? How should we speak of our clergy, and ourselves, when we prove to be different from our expectations?
Again, Paul is instructive: “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” —Ephesians 4:29
Embrace those who have come to lead us. Speak in Christ’s spirit of love — thinking, acting and giving over to words only what will build up Christ’s church. Because, ultimately, what doesn’t build up Christ’s church, only serves to tear it apart. And that shouldn’t be a legacy any of us would desire to bear.
Note: this column originally was published in the June 9, 2017 edition of the Enid News & Eagle under the title “Embracing change to build up Christ’s church. “