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Think Change, or Plan Your Funeral

Michael Gatlin

Michael Gatlin

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I recently read a book by a Puritan called “The Reformed Pastor.” It had some wonderful insights, but there was one huge element of the book that made it utterly unrealistic for modern leaders. He was leading a country parish where he knew exactly how many families he was responsible for, where they lived, and where they were spiritually.

That kind of reality exists now only in monastic settings (which, not surprisingly, are making a bit of a comeback). But for churches (or other organizations) in the modern world, change is an ever-present reality. There are statistics like “30% of a congregation in a large city turns over every so many years.” This is certainly true for us at Mercy, and more so given our younger population.

Whatever system or strategies we put in place must take this into account. On one hand, I have friends that I hope stay in this church with me until one of us dies. But in reality, most of the people closest to me will move on. They might move, or their needs might change such that they end up in another congregation (get over it, pastors, people are going to leave you and it doesn’t make them bad or you a failure).

If we make plans with the idea that the same people will stay around year after year, we will almost immediately start declining in both attendance and effectiveness. We must plan for the reality that our church will look completely different in five years in ways we probably can’t even imagine.

Let alone the turnover in people, consider the effect of technology. I literally cannot conceive of how to do ministry without cellphones, web sites, email, and Facebook. But what new technologies will be present in five years that I’ll have to catch up with? And for the record, I’m not a techno-geek. I’m a late adopter on almost all technology. I didn’t set this blog up – my friends did, then sent me a link and said, “Type in the box.” But I know if I fall too far behind, I’m dead.

What stays the same? Jesus. Love. Hope. But Jesus is an incarnate God, you hear me – incarnate. That means he enters into the world, into reality. Which means, in the 21st-century West, Jesus embraces constant change.

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