Change, People and Systems
June 6, 2011
Updated February 27, 2014
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Redemption is change. Change is hard. Even God thought the cross was the only way. Sometimes it seems to me despite Jesus words that anyone who wishes to follow him needs to take up the cross, we prefer to escape it. We would rather take a pill.
I was reminded of this when I looked for the quick fix. As one of the chaplains for the local fire department, I went to a small fire. I talked with the residents for just a moment. I saw so much that cried out for redemption. I wished at that moment I could say a word that would change the course of their life, provide resources that could undo the damage quickly, or hand them over to a person who could lead them through the morass of insurance claims and contractor decisions. But there was no pill. No quick fix.
But there was grace. A Christian neighbour. The rented home was owned by Christians. These were people who would take up a cross and bring love and hope to a struggling people. Who knows how redemption comes?
Elders have a sense of calling into service in the Kingdom of God. They want the power of God’s redemption to enter into the ordinary lives of people. They want to see the fellowship of God’s people flourish. This is all good. But there is no pill. No quick fix. Whether the change is for a family to do devotions regularly or for struggling relationships heal or for people to embrace the way of Christ, change is hard.
Let me suggest three things.
Love people. This is our call. One of the key characteristics of love is faithfulness. To be faithful is to take the relationship seriously and to be there in the midst of the struggles people have. Sometimes advice, but not always. Sometimes help, but not always. Always caring and being there. Redemptive change can be hard. To forget a former way of living and embrace a new way of living can be difficult. Even when we know what is good and right, it can be hard to follow through. Caring and being there helps in a person’s journey toward Christlikeness. What is particularly important to know is that love is the foundation for all change. When a person experiences being loved by Christ, they become Christian. When a person experiences being loved, they are willing to take the personal risks for change. It is not just having a vision of the better tomorrow, it is also the power of love that enables change.
Think systems. A person is always part of a network. A church is a network of people. Habits are learned ways of behaving that become imbedded in a person’s, a family’s, a group’s, or a church’s life. The power of networks and habits are our constant companions in ministry – for good and for ill. Our desire for redemptive change will always confront the imbedded systems of thought and practice in our lives. We need to observe that change needs to take place on many levels and through the systems we are part of. It takes time. It is difficult. There will be resistance. Even when all agree about what is good (like engaging and loving our neighbours), the habits of our lives can prevent progress. So we need patience and persistence. We also need wisdom to know where we can have the most effect. These are the places where a little (or big) change can have powerful influence to change the practices of our lives for kingdom effect. Think systems.
Finally, keep your eye on the redemptive kingdom vision we learned in Christ through Word and Spirit. It is easy to get distracted by the things that always keep coming urgently before us. So we need to keep the why (Vision) before us, keep the important matters of our workplan central, and support each other in the important tasks that seem to have little immediate impact. I am often impressed by how easily I can get distracted. A conversation takes a turn. An immediate pastoral matter takes me away. The lawn needs mowing. Before I know it – the urgent and immediate circumstance consumes my energy. As elders our meetings are just as much about us refocusing as it is about the matters on the agenda.
Redemptive change is what God accomplishes in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are God’s co-workers. God works miracles. God works slow change. God waits like a prodigal father. God seeks what is good. God loves. And he always takes us along to work with Christ and the Spirit in the divine project (venture, campaign – choose your word) of redemption. What a wonderful opportunity.
God bless your work.
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