The Urgency of Change

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As a mom with two children who now drive themselves, I do not miss the stage of life when I had to get them both out the door to the bus on time five mornings a week. My efforts to create urgency (“You’re going to miss the bus! I can’t drive you today because I have to get to work! Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go! Move faster!”) were usually met with early morning lackadaisical grunts.

Sometimes I talk with pastors who have a missional fervor that is not matched by their congregation or the congregations in their classes. I hear in them the same frustrated effort to create a sense of urgency around mission and evangelism, (“We have to get out of our comfort zone and do this! We cannot wait for the slowpokes to catch up. The life of the church is dependent on it now! We have to go!”). I am caught up in their passion, but I also wonder why their missional urgency is often met with apathy from their congregations.

Recently I heard a presentation from the Center for Congregations that provided useful insight into this question. The Center has learned, from their experience with numerous congregations, that when trying to motivate people to change it is not helpful to create a sense of urgency in volunteer-driven organizations. Churches are volunteer-driven organizations because any change the church makes must be owned, and lived out, mostly by the people who make up the church, who are essentially volunteers.

If the leader’s effort to create a sense of urgency is not speeding up mission-focused change in churches, what else can leaders do? Here are a few suggestions from the Center:

  1. Embrace the Kairos time. Kairos time is more interested in noticing the opportune time than tackling something immediately. A leader can help their congregation embrace Kairos time by reflecting with them on what God is currently doing in their midst, and how God might be preparing them to join in it. Key reflection questions might include: What is this the moment for? How has God put them in their place for such a time as this? 
  2. This question may change the congregation’s perspective: Can you articulate why this change matters to you? This question helps the people in the congregation step away from their own concerns to see the bigger picture. As a church, we need to recognize this change matters to us because it is part of being obedient to God’s call. 
  3. Even urgent change takes time. However, it is not just about going slowly- the process of change needs to take on a rhythmic nature, one with purpose and flow. Incorporating rituals and signposts along the way helps us mark moments during the change process.

The mission God invites us to is one of urgency. (This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Romans 13:11a). Creating that sense of urgency in the congregations we serve is more effective and deeply-rooted when we realize that the call is not ultimately from a human leader; who is quickly frustrated by the apathy of church-goers and the slow pace of change, but from a God who calls us to join in the mission to redeem all of creation.   

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