Once you get a bit of momentum moving in the direction of new values, you can begin identifying places where the old ways aren’t contributing to your new values. Now, be careful here! Momentum doesn’t mean you preached it and they said “Amen” a lot (though that’s a good day).
Momentum is seen when people start acting on the new values without prodding. It’s when they ask you questions about how we can better live the new values. Momentum is in evidence when it’s clear that the people are starting to be intentional in seeing their church change.
I remember one difficult Sunday night when our old values were on display. A young man entered our worship service a few minutes after the first song had begun. He was dressed like most guys his age would normally dress on the weekend and he was wearing a hat…oh no! A hat! In a room dominated by seniors, a hat isn’t to be worn (unless you’re a woman and this is a new hat you want others to notice). So, before I could launch myself from the platform and fight my way through the throng to prevent the inevitable, it happened. One of our ushers stepped up, grabbed the hat from the kid’s head and slapped it to his chest. No handshake, no “nice-to-meet-ya,” Just an overpowering message message that his hat wasn’t welcome in this house of worship. Can’t imagine the young man felt welcome either.
But that’s values in action. One generation feels strongly that men respect a house of worship by removing their hats. Of course, the Jews would never enter God’s house without a head-covering, but many feel strongly that our hats are a no-no.
As I watched this awkward scene unfold, my heart sank at the realization that weeks of preaching on love, belonging, hospitality, friendliness and a welcoming spirit (a somewhat redundant sermon series) had failed to produce the desired fruit in the moment of truth. A much-needed visitor was abruptly corrected before anyone had said, “hello.” Amazingly the kid came in, took a seat, and even became a part of the congregation. Of course, he had a great story to tell of his first visit–one that made me cringe afresh each time he told it.
But something else happened that night. A half-dozen people came to me, horrified by what they had seen. “Pastor, I feel so bad about that” and “Pastor, that’s not the way we want to treat guests, is it?” I could see in their eyes that these weren’t elementary school tattletales. They’re values were on display (new ones for many). They wanted that young man, and many others like him, to find a place in our family and they were ready to tackle an offending usher if necessary. By the way, it wasn’t. That usher later apologized for his lifelong reflex and quickly agreed that his well-meaning action didn’t send the message we all were wanting.
It was when the congregation reacted to this act that I realized we had momentum toward new values. Most who were upset by this lapse in kindness would have cheered it a few months earlier. But something was changing. And it would go on to change even more. A new day was coming…now it was time to look at a few other actions that needed changing (we’ll talk about that process next time).
The point this week is that the leader in a struggling church needs momentum before making significant changes. A few sermons isn’t momentum. Evidence that your congregation’s values are shifting can be. Remember that values change is a movement, a sweetness that’s working its way through the lump of dough. How can you demonstrate that this new way of thinking and acting has affected the lump enough to really change the recipe? If two or three agree with you, momentum isn’t yet on your side. Get a few more. Wait for some folks to surprise you with your own words and ideas. You see, it’s that momentum that will stir the crowd when you begin making changes to your ministry methods. Make sure momentum is moving your way before taking the steps ahead.