You’ve heard it before in a thousand different forms: change is hard. In churches it can often come as a variant of the old stock phrase: We’ve never done it that way before. Even when we take the first steps of a journey toward something new, it’s easy to give up when the going gets tough. For the Israelites in the Bible, recently freed from slavery by God’s miraculous deliverance, it only took the first hardship in the desert to start the mumbling about how good the fleshpots in Egypt were. Even when your destination is the Promised Land, change is hard.
Our own denomination, The United Methodist Church, is headed for a time of change. In the next few months the Commission on A Way Forward will be handing over its work to the Council of Bishops and the bishops will produce a proposal for what the church could look like as we navigate a time of great divisions over issues like human sexuality. A special General Conference in February 2019 will consider the proposal (and probably others that will be introduced).
I’ve talked before about my fantasy of a time, following February 2019, when everything would go back to “normal.” It is a fantasy and I know in my heart of hearts that what would really cause me despair is not the stress of where we are but the idea that things wouldn’t change. My soul knows that it longs for the possibilities that come with old things breaking open (and apart) rather than everything remaining the same.
The skeptics of our day look at the church and the world and see only what’s not working. We inhabit structures, (bureaucratic, financial, and physical), that were built for a day that has passed. The energy we have for doing what we used to do is flagging.
But seen through God’s eyes, within those structures there are people waiting to be unleashed upon the earth to be engaged in some new great movement. John Wesley was one of those people in the 18th century who came out of the old at the compulsion of the Spirit. Today, new leaders and new energy are poised for the launch of God’s next new thing. Whatever the outcome of the next General Conference, I want to see that.
Which means we should be ready. When Spring is in the air, there is a natural impulse to plant seeds, clean the house, prepare the lawn, and get in shape for all the activity that will come with the new warmth of the season. There will be challenges in getting our churches and our souls ready because, you know, change is hard. But Spring IS in the air. I believe it.