Ladies and gentlemen, buckle your seat belt.
The market you are working in, no matter the kind of business, enterprise, or ministry, is not static. It’s always moving, always changing, ever metamorphosing into something else. Conditions change as members of the work force transition and as leaders come and go. New products and cutting edge ideas are introduced and everyone rushes to get them, master them, use them, and then improve on them.
I’m sure there was a time when you could start a business or a ministry and do pretty much the same thing for the next quarter-century and have everything turn out well. The buggy whip industry seems to have been static for many generations. Then in the 1890s someone invented the horseless carriage and within ten years, buggy whip magnates were laying off employees and trying to figure out how to crank their Model A Ford.
Outsiders have no idea how rapidly conditions in the church office have changed. Take my experience, for example. In the 1960s our church bulletin was produced by a mimeograph machine. The secretary–or usually, I–typed everything on a blue form using a manual typewriter. If we made a mistake, we slapped on a blue correction fluid, then waited for it to dry. Spill some on your hand and you would wear it for the next two days. Printing the bulletin on a mimeograph machine involved messy ink, alignment problems, paper jams, and folding machines. Electric typewriters were around, but expensive.
In the 1970s we got copiers–but nothing like the one in your church office today. These printed one copy at a time using a form made up of two pages, the back side which you peeled off and threw away, leaving you one good copy–which proceeded to curl up and turn yellow. The church bulletin was printed on an offset machine, usually by a commercial printing company in your town. And you mailed them out to the congregation on Thursday, expecting them to receive them by Saturday. They were addressed using metal plates and a huge machine called an addressograph. Ask any veteran secretary and watch her grimace.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, computers were around but too expensive for our church to own, so we contracted with a firm that handled computer needs for churches across the land. They kept our membership files on their computers, and secretaries updated the records monthly through the mail. Periodically, we would receive a computerized printout of our membership. Most other requests we made of the company cost extra. Even so, we thought we were uptown.
Remember word processors? Suddenly secretaries were watching what they were typing on screens, not on the white paper in front of them as they had done since the invention of the typewriter. Soon, it was personal computers, and didn’t we feel twenty-first-century when these were installed at everyone’s desk!
I received a computer at my desk just 10 years ago, in 1997, I believe. It literally changed my ministry. I had always been a strong typist and had written articles for magazines and denominational publications over the decades, but not having a typewriter of my own for the previous decade meant I had written almost nothing. I would handwrite something and ask my secretary to type it up and send it out. Suddenly, I had my own computer, one tied in with the office printer.
Had someone stopped Jim Lancaster from installing that computer, it would have saved you from reading all these articles. By his one act of coming into my office–and uninvited, too, I might say–and setting up a computer, he opened up a new world for me.
These days, I type articles on my home computer in suburban New Orleans and post them on the website which my son in North Carolina maintains. Twice a week, he collects the most recent posts and e-mails them to the 1200 or so on our mailing list. The entire cost for this–I’m amazed even typing the numbers–is something like $120 a year.
I’m confident the day is not far away when someone will read this and laugh at the naivete’ of it. The very idea–being in awe of computers and the internet. Why, that would be like making a big deal of a screen door or a shovel–it’s so commonplace and ordinary, we take it for granted.
But that is my point. Today’s innovation is tomorrow’s screen door or shovel. Everything is changing. Think of the audio, video, and power point systems which are now commonplace in churches across the land. Pastors can sit at their consoles and call up thousands of Bible study books dealing with any text and any subject. Nothing is impossible any longer.
A dozen pastors (and other lesser mortals–smile!) will read this and think of even newer innovations that are arriving, avant garde ideas which Andy Stanley or young Ed Young or whoever is even younger and fresher than they, if that’s possible, are now employing. Someone has written a book which is this decade’s “Purpose Driven Life,” it will hit the book stores this week, and nothing will be the same.
Buckle your seat belt, minister of God. Do not let it overpower you, upset you, disturb your equilibrium or give you future shock. It’s all right. Do not be afraid. Remain in your seats.
The ministry will always be, at its core, a matter of preaching the Word of God, of loving people, of ministering to their hurts, and of telling the good news of Jesus Christ and helping people to know Him. It will always be made up of prayer and Bible study and acts of kindness in your community and acts of worship and fellowship inside your buildings.
If you have buildings.
They’re not necessary, you know. Pulpits aren’t. Stain glass isn’t. Baptistries aren’t. Not pews or pipe organs or choir robes, not hymnals or Sunday School quarterlies or bricks and mortar. Ask any rural African believer.
Powerpoint isn’t essential either. Screens aren’t. Or computers either, for that matter.
These are just the present manifestations of creative ideas on how to help us get God’s message to more people in more effective ways. Someone will find better ways than these. Perhaps it will be you.
More than likely, it will not be you and you will be surprised, perhaps even offended, that someone has just made obsolete the new package of innovations you talked your board into purchasing. It’s life. Expect change and don’t be surprised when change runs over you like a herd of wildebeest crossing the Serengeti.
Humans were made for change. Our bodies are changing all the time. We’re told the cells in our body are always dying and being sloughed off and then being replaced, so that every seven years we are completely renewed. I go off for a week and on my return, am amazed at how my grandchildren have grown or what they have learned. I look in the mirror and see another wrinkle or notice the last vestige of black hair has given up the fight and gone white (or turned loose).
Change is the only constant in the universe. Don’t fight it.
But recognize something else.
If you love change, if you are excited about all the new innovations being introduced all the time, then you need to know something crucial: you are in the minority. The people in your pews are not so happy about too much change, particularly in their worship services and how they do church.
Go slowly. Take the word “change” out of your church vocabulary. Use the word “experiment.” I’m indebted to Rick Warren for this suggestion. People are threatened by change. Rather than tell them the church is changing to two morning services, one at 8:30 and the other at 10:30, say, “We’re going to experiment with this new schedule.” Then say real quickly, “If we don’t like it, we’ll try something else.” They’ll like that.
If you hate change with a passion, if you pride yourself on resisting all new influences, if you look with admiration at the Amish in their buggies and the Primitive Baptists in their bare church houses, then I suggest you go back and read what our Lord said about new wine and new wineskins.
“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skin and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins.” (Luke 5:37-38)
It’s all about flexibility, the ability and willingness to adapt to the work of the Holy Spirit as well as the changing conditions around us. The stiff and inflexible, the hardened and unyielding, the Lord bypasses, knowing they will never be able to respond to a new idea or a changing world. He will not use them because they will not let Him use them.
One of the thousand aspects of our Lord we treasure is that He knows how hard change is for us. That’s why, just after He said what He did in Luke 5, He uttered this: “And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new; for he says, ‘The old is good enough.'” (Luke 5:39)
Ain’t that the truth! Just leave me alone with my old ways; they’re good enough.
But “good enough” is never enough with our Lord.
In September of 2005, on our first Sunday back from the evacuation of Hurricane Katrina–when many in the congregation had lost their houses or businesses or both, and untold numbers of others would move hundreds of miles away and everything in our city was in a state of flux–Pastor Tony Merida told our congregation: “If you don’t like change, you’ve come at a bad time.”
That leads me to say this: If you do not like change, you should never start out to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. After all, while He Himself is the same yesterday, today, and forever–that’s Hebrews 13:8–He is all about change, throughout the ever-changing universe. If you don’t like change, you might want to go somewhere else.
Hey Joe: Do you have a blackberry? Some weeks ago I read that people are having problems with “blackberry thumb”. There is some discussion of whether or not this will be covered by medical plans. I am now getting reply’s to e-mail that was sent from blackberries. A friend of mine has one and now he wishes he did not have it. Others I have noticed sitting in meetings and answering their e-mail or or text messgae. May have to put a ban on them in our churches.
I told my friend that where I live we eat blackberries. They make good cobblers. Otherwise I will suffer through life without the electronic monster. I do not need “blackberry thumb”!! I have enough Dr’s appointments already. Excuse me I must go and get ready for my appointment today. Internal check up.
Thank you so much, Bro. Joe. Yes, we have to be ready for change.
Great article, Joe. As I think about all the changes I have seen in church office equipment over the years, I’m glad someone invented better ways of doing the routine tasks! And I’m glad I made the changes and accepted the new ideas. There are many church members today who need to become flexible and yield to God so He can use them! God bless you! Glenda