Actress and comedian Amy Poehler once stated what most seasoned adults already know, “The only thing we can depend on in life is that everything changes. The seasons, our partners, what we want and need. We hold hands with our high school friends and swear to never lose touch, and then we do. Change is the only constant.”
Most of us have heard this funny comment about the weather: Don’t like the weather in (name the location)? Wait five minutes and it will change! Or, this one about light bulbs: How many (name the religious group) does it take to change a light bulb? What? CHANGE?
We’ve laughed and joked about change and our all-too-human responses, whether it’s a laughing matter or not. We often observe someone’s (or some group’s) resistance to change and wonder, why is that so difficult? Or, why are they so upset? After all, it’s obvious to me why the change should happen, right? Maybe it’s even my (or my group’s) idea. Yet, when it’s my turn, or my group’s turn, to face and accept a change, we might resist, expecting others to exercise inordinate amounts of patience with us and to accept our reasoning as to why the change should not happen at all.
It would be simpler and easier if the change(s) we are faced with came one at a time, with plenty of time for consideration and acceptance, and with a recovery period of some length before the next change item either entered our sphere or was forced on us. We know, however, that change is a constant, and increasing, reality in our 21st century lives. Glynis LeBarre, former Transformation Strategist with the American Baptist Home Mission Societies, was fond of saying that in the last 50 years of the 20th century, the world experienced the equivalent of 1000 years of change and development. Not only were more changes taking place during that time period, but the rate of change was increasing exponentially. And that was almost 20 years ago!
Church leaders are aware of change as it has impacted the world around and within but are often stereotypically perceived as being behind the curve in terms of responding to, or incorporating, paradigm shifts. Yet the guide book that churches claim to rely on is a record of change, from beginning to end. The Bible records the ways God has related to, loved, and redeemed all, from the brink of creation in Genesis 1:1 to the fulfillment of God’s kingdom in the final pages of Revelation. Change figures prominently in the biblical story.
In The Changing Church: Finding Your Way to God’s New Thing, Dan Cash and Bill Griffith write with the underlying assumption that God’s nature is to zealously love all of creation. With that understanding, they seek to de-mystify change by exploring eight key paradigm shifts in the way God has loved and related to God’s people within the overarching biblical narrative. Each chapter identifies one biblical paradigm shift (i.e. new wineskins; the shift from the old covenant to the new). The scripture text is provided, then explored by “relating to the story” and looking at the passage in context. Change theory is introduced and explained, relative to the biblical text, and “reflection questions” for personal meditation are sprinkled throughout each chapter. Often the passage is further enhanced as either Bill or Dan reveal at least one related experience from their vast treasure trove of pastoral ministry stories. Each chapter concludes with a larger group of questions as well as extensive notes and references.
As with their previous book, 8 Questions Jesus Asked: Discipleship for Leaders, this volume can provide a transformative experience for individual readers or groups who might read it together. Life or discipleship groups meeting on a regular basis in churches, homes, or in coffee shops will find that their reading and the resulting discussion will enhance their experience of God’s redeeming love in their own lives, while at the same time they will become more conversant with key concepts in change theory. They may be further transformed by or led to consider together how best to address change and change process in their own local church experience.
The use of a personal journal for notes on paradigm shifts and change, responding to the provided questions, and reflecting on the scriptural commentary and application could be helpful for any reader. While I personally think the reading of this volume would be enhanced in a group experience, it could also be used as a guide for an individual retreat or as a foundation for a sermon or teaching series.
Dan Cash and Bill Griffith are seasoned and gifted pastoral leaders who have served local churches and people, in some fashion or another, for well over three-quarters of a century. They are both immersed in scripture, it’s study and application, in a way that is evident in both of their lives. As a member of First Baptist Church of Columbus, I observed (often from a distance because of my own ministry position) how Dan led the congregation through the recent Revitalization Process. I know it was not always as easy as he made it appear, which he candidly discusses in the following chapters; nor did the church make as many changes as I personally would have hoped. The concepts they discuss here, along with a strong emphasis on a scriptural/spiritual foundation, and a well-conceived plan led the church through a healthy and hopeful process – and we are a stronger congregation because of it.
May these chapters increase your own experience of God’s radical, zealous love for you, and may you move forth in the chaotic change of this world as an agent of God’s redeeming peace and love. So be it.
Rev. Soozi Whitten Ford
American Baptist Churches of Indiana & Kentucky