I recently edited a book called “Transitions: Leading Churches Through Change” (John Knox Press). In the book, 32 well-respected thinkers take readers on a tour of their disciplines and address issues of change. Two insights are particularly helpful for our day.
First, change has its dangers. Substantive change raises an authentic possibility of failure. The book’s introduction notes that in “The New Organon” (Novum Organum), Francis Bacon wrote in 1620 about “the reality that change is dangerous.” Imagine a scenario in which 17th century farmers in a particular region each used a new method of agriculture in hopes of producing better crops. If the farmer’s enterprise fails, then the price could be starvation. Thus this kind of change is more than an inconvenience — it has the potential to put survival in peril.
Second, as Bishop Robert Schnase writes, “Change asks people to suffer loss, experience uncertainty and to redefine aspects of their identity.” Not only is consequential change dangerous, it also triggers a type of grief process. Change means embracing something else while letting go of what is familiar. It is a human emotional transaction that calls on clergy to assist people with both fear of the new and loss of the old.
The biggest transition for me in ministry is helping more people who stumble through change and addressing this change with less built-in pastoral authority than previous generations.
People I try to help are disillusioned because they want something they do not have, or have something they do not want. My job is to shine a little light of faith on their circumstance and remind them that nothing happens at once. The journey gives us the desires of our hearts. There is no guru, magician or wizard who can give you what you want. Only you can do that and not all at once. Fulfillment is found on the journey of life, usually when you least expect it.