As inevitable as change is, we do not handle it well. The weather changes, and we complain – even though weather changes are inevitable and indeed necessary for our survival. The recent presidential election means change, with about half our country happy about it and the other half not. Basketball fans either love their coach or are ready for him or her to move on, with a change in coaching always provoking arguments. I have lived in several communities, and witnessed the turmoil of school consolidations, forming metro governments, lotteries, alcohol sales, zoning changes… the list is long. It takes a lot of faith and discernment to know the different between needed change and novelty change. Change is upsetting, regardless of what “side” we are on.
The Church is not immune. In the years to come, I believe our annual conference and denomination will have to make changes to meet the challenges of our day, or decide to live in the past and no longer effectively minister to present and future generations. We live in an age where a computer is now a necessity rather than a luxury – the church is no different. Methodists have always deployed clergy with an itinerant system, and we now find the present system is antiquated and very broken, more suited to serving pastors instead of equipping our churches. Methodists have a wonderful connectional system, yet we use it selectively; churches that are dying could pool their resources, merge facilities, and by doing so offer more to a culture that is increasingly diverse. However, mention merger or closing to a local church and the attitude is usually, “I was born in this church; if this church closes, I just won’t go to church.” A lot of churches lament our district’s recent charge conference; the whole district gathered to do the yearly business of the church, and submitted numerous forms by consent calendar, saving a lot of man and woman hours, and it was one of the largest district gatherings I can ever remember. The complaint from some? “We want our own charge conference.” Great…so all 5-8 people that show up can get together, brag on their church, smile for the D.S., and submit a bunch of forms? No wonder people don’t come. I wouldn’t if I didn’t have to.
In all of this critique about change, it is rarely mentioned that the “way we’re used to” isn’t working. Two of our annual conference’s agencies are struggling to stay open. Our conference’s university, Lambuth, has an unsure future. United Methodism is still losing membership, and we’re operating as if it’s still the 18th century. The mission should still be the same: making disciples for Jesus Christ. The problem is we may be applying 18th century theory to 21st century practice. We are certainly not supposed to be of the world, but we ARE supposed to be in the world.
I think Jesus has a lot to say to the 21st century, and I think we do too. How much are we willing to be changed by God to be a disciple, and a disciple maker?