by David Moffett-Moore
We live in a time of unparalleled, immeasurable, and uncontrollable change. The cell phone in our pocket is more powerful than all the computers used for our lunar landing, and that cell phone is obsolete before we can buy it. Everything is changing, and the change is happening at an ever increasing speed.
This change affects every congregation. Phyllis Tickle sees the church in the midst of a change it has not seen for five hundred years. Phillip Jenkins describes it as a change we’ve not seen for a thousand years. This is a scale that is beyond our imagination. We live for a span of seventy-five years; how can we relate to a change measured by centuries? It is not just a storm of change, it is a tsunami of change, a change that is an earthquake and a tidal wave combined. It is over powering.
Change, even when it is good, desired, and controlled, produces stress, and stress produces conflict. This change certainly contains elements that are good, but it is often not desired and certainly never controlled. This increases the level of stress and the likelihood for conflict. Long term stress, stress that is not faced and dealt with, weakens our immune system.
We come to church as patients infected with the disease of conflictual stress. Our “fight or flight” hormones are active and we are looking for opportunities to express our frustrations, to vent. Most churches are safe places for this venting, thought it puts a strain on all our relationships. Our churches become SAD: Stressed, Anxious and Dysfunctional, they become at risk. Fortunately, there is something we can do about it. We can move from SAD to GLAD: Good, Loving And Dynamic.
There are Specific, Practical, Actionable Methods (SPAM) that we can use to positively manage stress, reduce conflict and strengthen our congregation’s immune system. Maintaining healthy communication is key to maintaining healthy congregations. Always talk about everything. When we have issues we feel we can’t talk about, we create barriers; when we talk about it, we create bridges.
Communication needs to be direct, face to face. Confidentiality is good, secrets are bad. Confidentiality means those who need to know, know what they need to know, when they need to know; it is based on sharing. Secrets are about maintaining power, never a good thing in a congregation. Mutual respect and personal accountability and the willingness to give our attention to the other rather than focusing on ourselves are all key factors to maintaining a congregation’s immune system. By doing this, our congregations can become resilient rather than at-risk. We can find ways not just to survive the storm of change but to thrive in the midst of it.
We cannot control the flow or force of the cultural change that is all around us. Yet it need not overwhelm us. We can move from SAD to GLAD with the help of SPAM! We can be resilient rather than at-risk. If you’d like to learn more, I invite you to read my book Wind and Whirlwind: Being a Pastor in a Storm of Change. Susan Nienaber, then Senior Consultant for the Alban Institute, said, “This should be required reading for all clergy early in their careers.”