The old saw that says rural churches have a hard time with change may be getting tired. All you have to do is look around those churches to see that a lot of things are already changing. Maybe the question isn’t whether we will change, but how.
It seems like every other day now I see a new field being cleared here on the Shore to construct new houses. No, it’s not a residential boom. Much as we need some attention to our housing market, the new residents are of the feathered variety. That’s new revenue for the county, but as I look at all these long, new buildings, each of which can probably house 20,000 birds, I wonder what the change will mean. How will we manage the byproducts of such barns? What’s the impact of having that many chickens in one place?
Change causes us to ask big questions and, even in the country, there are changes afoot. When churches confront the questions change presents head-on, they may find an exciting new chapter ahead.
Jacob Armstrong’s book, The New Adapters: Shaping Ideas to Fit Your Congregation, is built around the idea that churches thrive when they adapt to new conditions. I’ve been returning to this book over the last few months and looking at it through the lens of rural churches. I appreciate that Armstrong, who began a new church in the Nashville suburbs, recognizes that every group of people being asked to go somewhere new is going to have a “Back to Egypt Committee.”
“There are three things that the Back to Egypt Committee will say to you. Be ready for them.
We won’t have all we need.
It was better back in Egypt.
You have to do it on your own.” (54)
As it turns out, each of these is a lie. A good understanding of how God works will show that God will provide, that slavery to the past is not better than the journey to something new, and that God will give us partners for the journey. What we need, Armstrong says, is to hear the same promise that God gave Joshua—be strong and courageous.
I appreciate the way that Armstrong recognizes the potentially helpful role of conflict in moving forward. “Healthy conflict is actually a time saver,” he notes. “As we take the courage to engage in healthy conflict we are actually more honest and open with our people and can more quickly move towards where God wants us to go.” (60) For the many leaders who are averse to conflict, (and I count myself as one of them), it helps to realize this reality.
Ultimately, as with all things related to the church, it comes down to the mission. If we are committed to being what God calls us to be and to doing what Christ called his Church to do, we will let that guide how we think about change. Is our current practice hindering us from seeing what God is doing in the world? Can we cultivate meaningful relationships doing something new?
Can we handle change? We will. The question is how?