The “Why” of Transformation

The “Why” of Transformation

I have recently been involved in a fruitful discussion with several “all-in” people around the topic of church transformation from a posture and emphasis on maintenance to a focus on mission – more specifically, “missional” church.  The discussion was largely centered on how to effect change in the face of opposition.  How should we lead? How should we deal with opposition?  Should we mow over the opposition or wait until they come around?  How much time should we allow power brokers and blockers to come around to a missional approach?  How heavy-handed should we be?  Most of these issues are related to the “how” of transformation.  But I think it might be helpful to re-frame that question.  First, let me put my cards on the table.  I have tremendous faith in people’s ability both to understand things and to make even painful changes when they come to understand what’s at stake.  I also believe that there is more than one tool in the leadership toolbox.  If the only tool that you think you have is a hammer, then everybody starts to look like a nail and that doesn’t help anybody.  Using power in a faith community is dangerous, even when power is used for the right reasons.  Using power scares people because it makes them think that if you are willing to use power against someone else to achieve a goal that they didn’t agree with, then you are very likely willing to do the same to them if they don’t agree with you.   Having said that, I also think that there is a time and a place for both the use of authority and for church discipline.  Again, great care and consideration must be used in those cases.  It should also be said that I am not a neutral party in the discussion about “missional” church.  I believe that communities of faith need to be steered first and foremost by engagement with the mission of God outside their walls.  Those things being said, here is how I would invite us to re-frame the conversation about transformation.

When our community first started on this journey of transformation (one we are by no means finished with yet), one of the things that we kept getting hung up on was the “how” of transformation. As the community got caught up in it, I went down the rabbit hole of the “how” of transformational leadership…whose method to use, how heavy-handed to be, the “right way” to go about change, etc. But there is another question that brought a lot of that to an immediate halt. It was the “why” of transformation.

The “why” of this stuff is urgent. I now know what is at stake in very visceral ways…as do most of you. I have seen people die from violence, I have seen people put in wheelchairs for life because of senseless street gunfights. I have seen overdoses, teenaged prostitution, and several suicides. I watch 12 and 13-year-olds jump into gangs because they just don’t see any other options.  I see kids from affluent families filling up their every free moment by getting stoned or drunk on pills and booze they get from their parents medicine chests and liquor cabinets.  I see more people than I can name trying to fill the emptiness and kill the pain of their lives with every kind of meaningless sex and acts of violence.  Every week I see people rob and steal and throw their futures away over $30 or $40.  Every day that we are not out there trying to help others see the Kingdom and participate in it, people die. We lose people. People we personally know. And, I believe, we lose souls. We can argue about that point later, but the point is that “why” we need to change is urgent. And when we truly grasp what that urgency is about…who that urgency is about…and what’s at stake…then the “how” kind of works itself out.

I couldn’t find anyone willing to pick up a 16-year-old girl one night for youth group. She was willing to come…and people were just unable to see the urgency of the matter. No ride. She went over to her boyfriends instead and got pregnant. Now, she and her baby are looking at a lifetime of poverty.  And the 18-year-old father is in prison for statutory rape.  He’s done.  Urgent.

A young man who lived right across the street visited me one day about five years ago. And I told him that once our church was through fighting with each other, we would get a youth group restarted and I would invite him to it. He didn’t make it that long. He killed himself before we got done worrying about stupid things. His name was Ben. The day was May 20th.

Colby is a redeemed young man.  He is now very active in our mission and inviting others into it.  He is alive and he is made new. Colby told me that the week we reached him through our mission…if he hadn’t connected with our mission that week…he had already planned to kill himself…he knew how and when.  He had reached the very end of his rope.  Urgent.

Chico was killed before we could get deep enough into his neighborhood to reach him even though our associate pastor knows him well and he was nephew of one of our pantry workers. Brian was shot five times and is in a wheelchair for life.  “T” is in jail for selling dope to buy shoes.  Haley (17) went back to crack and prostitution because I couldn’t connect her to anything in her new town that could deal with the messiness of her and her family, even though I connected them to a church within my own denomination.

I could go on and on with the names and dates and stories of people we have not reached in time.  They visit me in my dreams.  I will answer for them.  So will we all.  And I could also go on and on with the names and dates and stories of people reached for the Kingdom…brought back from the brink just in time.  A church doesn’t have to see a transformed life too many times to catch the fire…and the point…and the joy.  The “why” makes the “how” a lot less significant.

With those things at stake, how we deal with opposition depends on what kind of opposition we’re facing in light of what’s at stake. If the power brokers in the community hired me to lead the church and then they tell me that I cannot do anything other than what they tell me to do, even on my own time, then that kind of resistance requires a particular kind of response. If they tell me they will fire me if I try to go outside the church to reach new people and make changes that they don’t like, then it might be that the use of power is what is called for.  I’m probably going to go with the models of transformation that involves dealing with resistance sternly. I am going to do that because of what’s at stake, and because I don’t have all the time in the world to argue with folks who have no interest in change….and apparently no interest in Jesus or his Kingdom.

However, if the community tells me that they aren’t going to change anything, but that I can do what ever I want on my own time, then that is a different situation altogether.  As such, I am going to handle leadership in the midst of that very differently.  I am going to cast the vision outside the church and bring the resulting change back inside by way of a new congregation that will hopefully create change in the existing one. I am going to keep putting the vision before the congregation. I am going to live the change. I am going to work with whoever is willing to work with me…whoever understands what’s at stake. And I am going to use my own time and my own resources to live the mission.  I am not going to blame the congregation for not allowing me to do what I have been called to do.  I don’t have time to sit around and point fingers and talk about “if only I had more resources”. The need is too urgent for that.

If someone is hurting people in the community…family or not…I am going to confront the behavior individually first in the hopes of resolving the relationship…as scripture dictates.  If that doesn’t work to effect change in behaviors, then I am going to take someone from church to go with me and I am going to try it again.  If that doesn’t work, then I am going to put the behavior before the congregation. I am going to invite the person to get healthy and I am probably going to recommend some controls on their behavior within the community. If they persist, then we are probably going to ask them to leave. If they “take hostages” and say that if things don’t go their way, they are going to leave and take people with them, then we are probably going to take them up on their offer.  We are going to do that because we can’t bring newly-tranformed lives into a sickfest, and what is at stake is too important. I know how unpopular that will make you if you do that.  But what is at stake is too important to not do it.  Lives are at stake and we don’t have all the time in the world.

And if the context of change is none of that at all, then what is called for in terms of the “how” is necessarily going to be different, too.  If the existing church leadership tells me that they probably aren’t going to go out into the mission, but they will support it for others to do, then the whole context for “how” is totally different and incredibly hopeful.  If existing leadership is of the mind and heart that they are willing to change but aren’t ready to change, then again, that is a different situation.  And even in these situations, urgency comes into play and leadership is called for.  In these cases there is a lot of room to move and to try different approaches and to host lots of discussions…and to be patient.  We just can’t forget the “why” of transformation in the midst of our hope.  The “why” have names…and moms and dads…and people who love them…and a God who loves them beyond words.  What is at stake is urgent enough and important enough that it cannot wait forever.

So, the “how” we lead is less important to me than the “why” we lead. When we lose someone we love because we were too late, all of the “how” stuff tends to fall into place. IMHO.

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1 Comment »

  1. Phineas Marr Said:

    Are you trying to say that God loves actual people more so than big shiny buildings and high-profile programs? What are you, some kind of heretic?


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