Why Change Is So Difficult & Yet, Needed

Over the past few weeks, the Leadership Team at our church has been praying and mulling over some potential changes in schedule, function and emphasis. As with many other organizations, change is often needed. We can all give illustrations of organizations that refused to change when given the opportunity and are now just examples of being left behind (Blockbuster Video, anyone?)

Tumblr_nkyjwgtQ581sfie3io1_1280The added challenge of change when implemented in the local church is that the church is more than a business or community organization. The church is a living, breathing organism given an incredible mission and mandate by God to make disciples and grow His Kingdom. Since we know the "gates of hell will not prevail" against His church, some question the legitimacy of change. While all change is not good, we can all agree (I think) that at times it is needed. 

What never changes is the Gospel and God's Word. 

That needs to be said numerous times and, like most pastors, I repeat it often. Structures change. Organization charts change. Buildings change. Worship times change. Worship styles change. Even church leadership changes.

What never changes is the Gospel and God's Word.

Recently, Dr. Charles Stone, a minister gifted in leadership skills and nearleadership, especially, wrote an article titled "8 Reasons Why Church Change Is So Difficult." I believe he is accurate in his assessment and I share the main points below:

Brain insight helps us understand hidden processes around which we can design our change initiatives. Awareness of how people’s brains work in response to change can help you craft more lasting changes. Here are eight reasons why change is hard…

  1. People naturally assume the worst. Our brain is wired to pick up threats and negative possibilities around us more than the positive. 
  2. People usually fill in knowledge gaps with fear instead of faith. Uncertainty about the future (and change) breeds this fear. The less information and the more people have to fill in the knowledge gaps, the greater the fear and resistance to change.
  3. We don’t have a second chance to make a good first impression. Poorly introduced change will always start your change on the wrong footing.
  4. Emotions influence receptivity to change. Although we may prefer it not to be so, most people make decisions based on emotion.
  5. The brain can only handle so much change at once. Trying to create too much change too quickly can engage the brain’s fear center and cause people to resist, thus hindering change (Hemp, 2009).
  6. Old habits die hard. The older we get we more easily default to what we know. 
  7. Resistance to change often increases the closer you get to the change. Uninformed optimism gives way to informed pessimism.
  8. The brain often interprets change as a threat which in turn creates resistance. The brain is organized around a fundamental principle: Minimize threat-maximize reward that results in either resistance or openness. Change seems like a threat which often breeds resistance from others. Change brings uncertainty and the brain doesn’t like uncertainty.

We know that the reality is that change for the sake of change is a waste of energy and capital. Therefore, to make any adjustments in ministry, staffing, organization, small groups, worship times, etc. just on a whim is unwise and asinine. 

However, as we begin to better understanding the makeup of the 21st century culture (we've been in this century for 15 years now, so it's about time we analyze it, right?) the truth is that change is happening at breakneck speed all around us. While the message of the Gospel is unchanging, the process of sharing the Gospel and gaining an audience with those who see no need for God or the local church must change. 

Without change in processes, we will remain stuck in time, wondering why our strategies that worked in the 1980s seem to fall flat. Rather than adjust strategies or schedules, many churches will collectively shake their heads, blaming the media, government, school systems, community leaders or other likely targets for influencing our children, grandchildren, neighbors and co-workers too much and abandoning Christian values.

And, in about 25-30 years, as 70% of funding toward evangelical churches in America disappears (as reported by John Dickerson in his book The Great Evangelical Recession) the unchanging Gospel will remain strong, but the unchanging local church buildings will be up for sale.

The challenge is clear. Change must happen, but our human nature HATES it. There are at least eight resistors to change hard-wired into our brains. This is not God's cosmic joke, but His divine plan in the creation of our brains and neurology. Resistance does not mean stopped. We can change and we must change, but often it is not enjoyable (at least through the process.)

Yet, even as Christians we celebrate change. That's the message of the "personal testimony" or "story." As a child of God relates his/her story of salvation, the joy is in the change. God takes our hearts of stone and changes them into hearts of flesh.

We are given a new nature when we become a child of God. That's change.

We are given a new heart when we become a child of God. That's change.

We are changed from death to life through Jesus Christ.

While not all change is good (remember New Coke?) we must understand that wise, prayed over, God-led change is needed. No, the gates of hell will never prevail against Christ's Church. That truth is solid. Let's just ensure we have our ears and eyes open so that we can hear and see how God is leading us, His church, into a culture for His glory and as His change agents.

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Click here for Charles Stone's blog and full article on change.

 


Christians, ALS, The "Ice Bucket Challenge" & Stem Cells

The "Ice Bucket Challenge" for ALS has taken off in an unbelievable way. 

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When I first saw reports of this fund-raising effort on ESPN, I thought "Oh, it's a take off of what firefighters have been doing for months" and of course, what we did with the "ice plunge" for Toronto church planters here in Jacksonville.

Why has this version of the cold water challenge taken off?

  1. It's much easier to get a bucket of ice water and pour it over one's head, than to devise a creative way to get dunked in ice water. Also, it's easier than having to use a horse trough for "polar baptism" we did earlier for church planting.
  2. It's for a good cause - research to discover a cure and newer treatments for those suffering from ALS (amyotrophic lateral scleroris). 
  3. The disease is more popularly known as "Lou Gehrig's Disease" and with that, the nature of sports and celebrity has pushed the challenge into viral status. 

There are some who have "upped the ante" by writing large checks rather than taking a cold bucket shower (i.e. Charlie Sheen, Patrick Stewart and Laura Bush.) There are dozens of videos on YouTube called "Ice Bucket Fails" which are entertaining. . .if you like seeing people have buckets fall on their heads, or other things similar to what made The Three Stooges famous. Personally, I thought George W. Bush's ice bucket clip was one of the best.

 

As with any effort that seems to be for a good cause, questions arise and some deem the effort futile. Celebrities like Pamela Anderson refuse to do the challenge based on her position on using animals in research, which apparently the ALSA does. Others tweet snarky remarks about dumping water on one's head while those in Africa face famine. There will always be those who deem any effort wasteful or less than well-intentioned.

What About Christians Doing This?

There are followers of Christ who struggle with the reality that the ALSA reportedly uses embryonic stem cells in their research. As a believer who opposes research using such stem cells, due to my conviction regarding life beginning at conception and my staunch opposition to abortion, this is an honest and viable concern.

 

Since many are now struggling whether to "take the challenge" when offered based on these convictions, I find the information shared by our Ethics & Religious Libertiy Commission to be spot on and helpful. Below is a portion of the blog post that may be read fully here:

Why do some people have ethical concerns with the challenge?

There have been some concerns registered on social media about the charity sponsoring the challenge, the ALS Association, and whether donors are contributing to an organization that supports embryonic stem cell research. Based on reporting from the American Life League, a spokeswoman from ALSA wrote the following:

The ALS Association primarily funds adult stem cell research.  Currently, The Association is funding one study using embryonic stem cells (ESC), and the stem cell line was established many years ago under ethical guidelines set by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS); this research is funded by one specific donor, who is committed to this area of research.  In fact, donors may stipulate that their funds not be invested in this study or any stem cell project. Under very strict guidelines, The Association may fund embryonic stem cell research in the future.

To be fair, according to Munk, it seems ALSA supports the philosophy of embryonic stem cell research, but that known funding is exclusively done through the direction of one donor, and that potential donors have the opportunity to withhold funds that would be used for such purposes. By its own admission, however, it appears that ALSA reserves the right to further embryonic stem cell research at its own discretion.

What is Embryonic Stem Cell Research?

Embryonic stem cell research is speculative medical research (it has never resulted in clinical treatments) that is predicated on the destruction of embryonic human life. The process uses stem cells harvested from embryos conceived through in vitro fertilization (IVF) that have been donated for research purposes rather than being implanted into a woman’s uterus. The embryos are killed during the process of harvesting their cells and then are discarded afterwards. In 1999, the Southern Baptist Convention issued a resolution expressing opposition to the destruction of innocent human life, including the destruction of human embryos for research purposes.

Should Christians not participate in the challenge?

With the close proximity to a moral dilemma that this situation presents, it is reasonable that Christians would register hesitation and distrust towards collaborating with an organization that harbors no moral opposition to the destruction of unborn life, but instead endorses such activity. Christians should also consider whether their contributions are unwittingly undergirding a philosophical worldview at odds with Christian ethics. The taking of innocent life under any circumstance is sinful. Moreover, fostering a culture of life predicated on the destruction of life is contradictory.

There are pathways to participation that don’t require moral compromise and that can allow those interested to join in the campaign without violating their conscience. The ALS Association encourages people taking part in the challenge to “make a donation to an ALS charity of their choice.” Listed below are a few organizations recommended by Christian bioethicist David Prentice that use adult stem cells in ALS research:

The Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center (MSCTC) at the University of Kansas Medical Center is starting an increasing number of clinical trials and educational efforts.

To donate: Click the “Make a Gift” link in the left column of their web page, it specifies donation for the MSCTC.

At the Mayo Clinic, Dr. Anthony Windebank and his team have one ongoing clinical trial for ALS patients and are ready to initiate a second clinical trial for ALS patients.

To donate: There is a “Give Now” link near the top of web page from Dr. Windebank’s link above; people can specify that their donation go to his ALS research team.

The Adult Stem Cell Technology Center, LLC is a for-profit company developing new methods for growth and application of adult stem cells, and does not support embryonic stem cell research.

To donate:  Click “Contact Information” in the right column of the web page and email the Director to learn more about the company’s adult stem cell technology development plans.​

Many are impacted by this terrible disease. Family members, friends, and those in our church family. Give as led and pray for those seeking a cure. Pray, too, for those facing this disease now and family members as well.


Who's Your Jesus?

A few weeks back a friend of mine shared a book on Nook (nice app - you can share books for up to 14 days.) The book is titled Imaginary Jesus and is written by Matt Mikalatos. It's hard to classify the book. It's not really non-fiction. It's not a novel. One reviewer said it was C.S. Lewis meets Monty Python. Perhaps.

The book description on Amazon states this:

Imaginary Jesus is an hilarious, fast-paced, not-quite-fictional story that’s unlike anything you’ve ever read before. When Matt Mikalatos realizes that his longtime buddy in the robe and sandals isn’t the real Jesus at all, but an imaginary one, he embarks on a mission to find the real thing. On his wild ride through time, space, and Portland, Oregon, he encounters hundreds of other Imaginary Jesuses determined to stand in his way (like Legalistic Jesus, Perpetually Angry Jesus, and Magic 8 Ball Jesus). But Matt won’t stop until he finds the real Jesus—and finally gets an answer to the question that’s haunted him for years. Be warned: Imaginary Jesus may bring you face-to-face with an imposter in your own life.

 

Since I haven't had the time to sit and read this book for hours on end, I'll probably end up purchasing it because the free 14-day borrow will end soon. I am about halfway through and I must say the concept of the imaginary Jesus is intriguing. It echoes things I have thought and said for years. I even find myself guilty of creating my own imaginary Jesuses at times.

As a believer, I stand firmly on the Word of God believing that it is inerrant and that the Jesus described within those pages is the authentic man (Son of God & God the Son.) Yet, culture has a way of leading us to re-create Jesus in our own image.

This has been the case for years. That's why the short Jewish man from Nazareth is depicted as a tall, very white, European man, sometimes with blue eyes, in many classic works of art. While it's easy for us to identify these depictions of Jesus to be wrong, it become more difficult to clearly see how the Jesuses we create are just as wrong.

Mikalatos introduces and describes many imaginary Jesuses in his book. You may recognize some of them. 

  • KJJ "King James Jesus" - This Jesus speaks only in King James English. There are many "thees" and "thous" coming from the mouth of this one. 
  • Harley Jesus - This one wears a leather vest and has a tattoo or two. He's not just a biker, he's a "holy roller."
  • Liberal Social Services Jesus - This one has arms and legs and works hard to clean up areas and serve the community, but has no mouth. That's because he never says anything about why he does this. He just lives in the social gospel. There's also a Jesus on the other end that has no arms, but has a really big mouth. All he does is talk down to people, but never serves them.
  • 8 Ball Jesus - This one is like the Magic 8 Ball toy that has been around for years. Ask this Jesus anything and he'll answer like the 8 Ball. It's all chance with fortune like answers.
  • Patriotic Jesus - This Jesus is "red, white and blue" and loves America (more than any other nation) and basically wraps the flag around everything.
  • Political Jesus - Yes, he's exactly what he sounds like. This Jesus is intent on changing the world by electing the "right" people into office. 
  • Testosterone Jesus - This is my favorite. This is the "men's retreat Jesus" who talks grunts like Tim Allen on Home Improvement and spouts lines from Braveheart whenever he gets the chance. "Free-e-e-e-e-e-e-dom!!!!" He also cries alot and tells men to be better husbands and fathers all the time (when he's not quoting Braveheart.)
  • The Secret Society of Imaginary Jesuses - These guys are basically like the Jesus Seminar, only imaginary.
Buddy christThere are others scattered throughout the book like CEO Jesus, Hippie Jesus, Legalist Jesus, Health Nut Jesus, iPod Jesus, and others. This reminds me of the Buddy Christ from the film Dogma (no I didn't see the film, but I have seen the "Buddy Christ" figure - pictured to the right.) It's funny how Christians were so upset about the "Buddy Christ" imagery and the film (and rightfully so) but many continue to create their own personal caricatures of Jesus.

 

As I read (the portion I had the chance to) this book, I couldn't help but  do a little self-evaluation. What Jesus have I created in my own image? Am I guilty of this? 

Unfortunately, I believe I have been at times, and to be honest, so is just about every believer I have ever met. I guess since we are image-bearers of the Creator, we tend to create. It's just in this case, we create what we feel is right, but it's, oh, so wrong.

The authentic, biblical Jesus does not need to be recreated into our image or for our cultural acceptance. While we lament that many unbelievers truly do not know who Jesus is, the reality is that many church-attenders and "Christians" tend to see a Jesus who is not truly the real deal. Even true believers can slide into this.

While this is not really a review of Imaginary Jesus (I can't review a book I haven't finished,) the subject matter did cause me to question. Questioning is not a bad thing. Isn't it the Truth that sets us free?

So. . .who's your Jesus?

Is he one listed above? Is he the Patriotic Jesus, the Political one, or maybe the Liberal Social Services one? Maybe he's a mixture of some or a creation yet to be listed.

Is He the One revealed to us through Scripture or some other version?

Stick with the real one. You can read Mikalatos' book. It's fun, but I recommend you spend more time in The Book. Read the Gospel accounts of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.) The truth is there. It's evident who He is, what He came to do and what He is doing now. Don't settle for a cheap imitation.

John 14:6(ESV) 

 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." 


God is Big

You've probably seen these before.  Like a lot of things, these get emailed around to everyone and show up in your inbox about once a year.  Still, it's good to remember how big our God is (which is unimaginable) and by seeing these images, I'm overwhelmed that God would love us the way He does.

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"The temple I am going to build will be great, because our God is greater than all other gods. but who is able to build a temple for him, since the heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain him? Who then am I to build a temple for him, except as a place to burn sacrifices before him? 2 Chronicles 2:5-6 NIV