Part 3 in a 3-part series by Pivot NW Researcher Rev. Dr. Eric Ford
Who is your favorite Bible character? For me, Caleb stands out as a faithful example who I want to emulate.
In Numbers 13, we find the Hebrew people on the edge of the Promised Land. God commands Moses to send twelve spies on a reconnaissance mission. The spies return and report (and I’m paraphrasing here), “Yes, the land is fertile. Yes, the grapes are as large as your head. Yes, it’s wonderful, just like we imagined it would be. But no, we can’t go. The cities are too large. The people are like giants. It’s all too much.” And the Hebrew people begin their lament; it would be better back in Egypt.
Do you remember the good old days? I once heard an excellent preacher call this the “Back to Egypt Committee,” and folklore says that every church has one. Within every congregation there exists an individual or group that sees change as negative and/or unnecessary. Personally, I play that role when it comes to smartphones and technology. I still remember the good old days of rotary phones or my first Blackberry. And I can’t seem to bring myself to engage online giving; I still put my check in the envelope and place it in the collection plate.
I am not advocating that we simply push aside anyone who voices a cautious opinion. They are part of the church community, and their experience and perspective need to be honored. At the same time, when I was a young adult, I really didn’t like the older generations recounting their glory days. My response was usually, “Maybe the good, old days weren’t really that good.” Let’s face it, the Hebrew children who were born during the wilderness-wanderings had no first-hand memories of Egypt. So, sometimes the crowd still chants, “We won’t move forward. We want to go back to Egypt!” And others look on with blank stares, not understanding the context or history.
Remember our previous blog conversations about change. Research shows that change doesn’t happen overnight (Prochaska, DiClemente, & Narcross, 1992; see illustration). In fact, there are a few stages that require contemplation and preparation before we should even begin to act on change:
- First, there is the pre-contemplation phase; your congregation (or individual leaders within it) discerns that God may be calling you into ministry with young adults. This means someone within the church community has the intention to do something within the next six months.
- Second, the leadership of the church is contemplating what young adult ministry might look like. This is where the ministry team is seriously considering making an actual change in the next six months. Everyone will need to do their homework, have lots of conversations, and know what you are getting into.
- And then, the congregation can finally reach the preparation phase; a decision to change is close at hand. The ministry leaders are intending to act within the next month. Everyone recognizes that there is a decision to be made: Forward in ministry or back to Egypt?
And then we meet Caleb (“Mr. Change-agent,” as I like to call him), and he gives a minority report of the reconnaissance mission: “Yes, the land is bountiful. Yes, the people are large. Yes, it is just as wonderful as God promised. Yes, we felt like insignificant bugs. But no, going back to Egypt is not the proper move. Turning around is not the right direction. God made us a promise. This land is for us—the descendants of Abraham and Sarah. And God always comes through on promises. So, let’s claim our destiny. Forward into the future!”
You can see why I like Caleb. He is positive. He is certain. He is all about innovation and change. I’m guessing you have a Caleb in your congregation—someone who is championing the cause for young adult ministries. Maybe Caleb is you.
If that is the case, please allow me to offer one comment and then a piece of advice. First, this is not the time to go rogue! Trust me, after my 25 years of local church ministry, this much I know: God did not create leaders to go it alone. For example, just a few verses later in Numbers 14, Joshua joins Caleb in the change conversation. There is strength in numbers, and the Bible is full of examples of co-leadership and team contributions.
For instance, in Acts 15, the missionary pair of Paul and Barnabas returns to Jerusalem to champion the Gentile cause. After much debate, Peter rises to offer his impetuous perspective (and I’m paraphrasing again): “Why place the old rules on our new friends? This not about us versus them. It’s not old church members against new young adults. This is about expanding the Kingdom. It’s a new day; God is doing a new thing. This is a time for leaders and teams and congregations to put aside comfortable complacency and come together for the glory of God.” (Can you hear the background music swell?!) James immediately confirms the change, and the Church refines its mission. Teamwork at its biblical best.
Second (and here is the advice), remember that change requires intentional preparation. Research states that only one-third of change initiatives actually work. I have repeatedly heard faithful church members ask, “If the success rate is so low, why even bother trying to change?” Recall Prochaska et al.’s (1992) five stages; change doesn’t actually happen until phase four. How often have good people given up just before the change is about to happen? (More on that topic in the months to come.)
We know that change takes work. A lot of thought and preparation goes into creating effective transitions and transformation. Just because God calls us into new ministries, it does not mean it will be easy. Change brings anxiety; it is not for the faint of heart. However, I implore you to remember this: In the midst of change—contemplation, preparation, and action—there is Good News!
Caleb’s words to the Hebrews were also meant for you and me, “Let us go up and take the land—now. We can do it.” (Numbers 13:31, The Message) Or, if you prefer a quote from the New Testament, let us remember what Paul said to the Church in Rome, “With God on our side like this, how can we lose?” (Romans 8:31b, The Message) The most important thing to remember is this: Before any change happens, we need to take the time to discern and pray, investigate and research, organize and prepare. God is always faithful.
But that is only the next-to-the-last word. The last word on change truly belongs to you, your team, and your congregation. The question is no longer, are you ready for change? The question is not, how serious are you about this change? The real question to ponder is this: Having worked together as a leadership team and church community—contemplating options and preparing for opportunity—what action will you now take?
Eric Ford, MDiv, DMin is a first-year PhD student in the Industrial-Organizational Psychology Program at SPU. He is an ordained Elder in The United Methodist Church. His role in Pivot NW is to help congregations manage the process of change as they engage with young adults. Eric lives in Ballard with his wife Erin and daughter Skylar. He says that the best part of the move to Seattle is the wide variety of coffee choices!