Behold, I Make All Things New - And You Freak Out!
Watch! I'm about to carry out something new! And now it's springing up— don't you recognize it?
- Isaiah 43:19
Perhaps it is because I was moved around so much as a child, but I don't fear change; I welcome and embrace it.
When I was growing up, my family moved almost every five years until I graduated high school. We never moved anywhere near where we lived previously, so each new move was filled with new houses to live in, new people to meet, new places to discover…lots of newness!
Yes, it was scary; newness always is no matter how awesome it may be. Yet my anchors were never in where I lived or who I knew; probably because I was never in one place long enough to get anchored. My anchors were my family and my faith. Since they were always with me, I never felt too off-centered.
Anchors are incredibly important in a world that is always moving forward at light speed. Things are changing around us minute-by-minute, and things that were "the next best thing" are obsolete in six months.
Is it any wonder then, that people seek anchors of stability and familiarity in the midst of all that is whirling around us?
Church often plays that kind of role for people. On Sunday morning, there's a familiar routine, a service that pretty much always follows the same format, the same prayers are recited, familiar hymns are sung, and folks tend to sit in their same spots in the pews.
These anchors, unfortunately, can also become idols that anchor us so rigidly that we become unable to move in the midst of our traditions.
I decided last year that I wasn't going to change the order of Sunday service, but I was going to take out all the fancy language and use our every day vernacular to make things more visitor/unchurched friendly. So the Call to Worship became The Gathering, The Prayer of Invocation became The Invitation…you get the idea.
Man, did I freak some people out. I took away the anchor of their liturgical language, and folks got angry.
Same with some aesthetic changes we made to our sanctuary in terms of paint, some banners and curtains, plants….some people thought we'd make the sanctuary look like someone's living room and they hated it, others felt that the sanctuary was giving them a hug and it was far more intimate a place to worship.
Whether its hymns with newer, inclusive language, or a change in the liturgy or the worship space, or a change in staff leadership…whatever it is, change is hard to work with in a place like church where anchors are so wide-spread and so intensely personal.
The balance between honoring tradition and introducing newness is not an easy thing to find. Jesus himself was a progressive reformer of his own deeply-loved traditions, and it got him in loads of trouble. The same seems to happen in church when people attempt to change things; especially if it is perceived the changes are happening too fast, or without true consensus, or isn't in keeping with the theology of the church.
And yet if we don't keep fresh ideas coming, if we don't inject fresh energy and creativity into our traditions to keep them living, current and relevant, then the church becomes what too many of them have already become - empty memorials of a time gone by.
It is imperative that we listen to our scripture in all of those moments where God reminds us that God is all about making a new thing, that God rejoices in creation and new life, and that change is not only important but also sometimes incredibly necessary. This holds particularly true in the Church.
When was the last time your church tried something new? How did it go? How was it received? What's the temperature of your church in regard to trying new things?
Juxtapose the answers to those questions with average attendance, yearly budget and finance figures, and the rate of attrition verses welcoming new members at your local church.
The answers to these two questions are vital to the understanding the present and future of our churches. May we have the strength and the courage to always try new things! God loves it when we do, and our communities of faith needn't be afraid (or too entrenched in the traditions of their pasts) to try. The results may pleasantly surprise you!
When was the last time you tried something new?