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Subject to Change – Part 1

I peeked behind the curtain…

No, this is not a confession of some sort of voyeuristic escapade. I’m a Midwesterner, and peeking behind the curtain is a euphemism that means we like to uncover the real story, see what’s happening beyond what’s visible, or crack the code to see how things work.

You might remember my fellow Kansan, Dorothy. She was a peeker too. Standing amidst the overpowering display in the throne room of the Great and Powerful Oz, Dorothy–in true Midwestern form–pulled back the curtain to find the real story. Okay, actually she was trying to find Toto, who had initiated this journey of curiosity. Still, she overcame her own timidness with her desperate desire to get back home and suddenly she could see the real story behind the amazing Oz. A small, somewhat chubby man, pushing buttons, pulling levers, and speaking into a microphone larger than his own head. In that moment she uncovered one of life-s great truths–add a little reverb and you can sound all-powerful.

Now, let me get back to the curtain I pulled back. Dorothy was disappointed in what she saw, but I was only surprised. Like Auntie Em’s favorite niece, I had been prepared to see something, but saw something else.

You see, I’ve attended numerous pastors’ conferences, drained thousands of coffee cups with fellow pulpiteers, and listened to the dreams of hundreds of these would-be world changers. And, quite frequently, their stories often describe the resistance to their efforts in less than flattering tones. These are the enemies of change, the status quo protectors gathered around deacon room tables. I’ve had the scowling faces of future preventers described in such detail that I had clearly envisioned the veins popping from their heads. Churches don’t change because the people won’t let them change.

Then I pulled back the curtain…

Actually, I began working with churches and the people inside them. I started sitting at their tables, listening to their attitudes, and surprisingly saw very few of those popping veins. Instead, I saw passionate people, some even desperate to see a new day for their church. I met folks who wanted to reach their communities every bit as much as the pastor who led them. I encountered people who were waiting for some powerful character to pull the right lever for them and they seemed quite ready to click their ruby red dress shoes together to get there.

More often than not, the portrait of control-freak deacon or stern church matriarch proved inaccurate. Sure, there are a few out there, but even most of them aren’t out to control the church. Many have just exerted a bit more effort to make sure that some painful and confusing event that occurred a while back never happens to them or their church again.

I discovered that the stories, like Oz’s frightening head, had been a bit embellished for effect. No, my pastor friends weren’t lying (and neither was I when it was my turn to talk), it’s just that many of us hadn’t figured out how to lead these folks effectively yet. We stepped into a story we didn’t start and struggled with our willingness to invest the kind of time it would take to really catch up. So, our impatience and our people’s caution mixed a volatile brew–the kind that has your eyes playing tricks on you.

Most church people are really good people who want really good things for their church–God things. They can quote the Great Commission too, and they really want to live it. It’s just that when you live in the passenger seat and you’ve been driving in circles for awhile, it’s hard not to comment on the latest turn, especially when the road looks too familiar. Hard to blame them, and I can understand why their doubts irritate the latest driver.

But the point is that these are good folks and they need to be led to the future effectively. So, over the next several weeks, I’m going to write about what change is like from the passenger seat, what we can learn from that side of the windshield, and how we can get where we both really want to go together. I’m calling this series of blogs “Subject to Change” ’cause that’s what many congregations are–they are subject to our repeated and occasionally clumsy efforts to bring change to their world.

Stay tuned…

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