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September 14, 2013

For months the congregation I serve has been faced with the inevitability of change in our worship service.  The time is now upon us.  For many good reasons we have made several changes.  We’ve begun using some mp3 files, we sang a responsive praise song with the use of an electric bass and two djembe drums, and the song leader is a woman and used a microphone.

Now, changes in worship content or style isn’t a completely new thing for the congregation.  It wasn’t too long ago we had a guitar strumming, tunic wearing pastor.  (I’m not sure if it was the same one who jumped over the railing in the chancel area or not…)  But the congregation is a stalwart congregation which has showed itself faithful to their commitment weathering the storms of change whether in the reconfiguration of the sanctuary, the addition of an education wing,  the strumming of a guitar playing pastor, or the pontifications of the more recently returned missionary currently serving as their pastor…


Heifetz and Linsky in their candid book “Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading” talk about developing a certain level of objective distance which they refer to as “getting on the balcony.”  But the essential point in this is not to stay there.  To get out of the way, to discern the situation, and then “to get back on the dance floor.”  They posit the thought that:

Most people instinctively follow a dominant trend in an organization or community, without critical examination of its merits.  The herd instinct is strong.  And a stampede not only tramples those who don’t keep pace, it also makes it hard to see another direction  – until the dust settles. (Heifetz and Linsky, p. 51)

This is essential to understand in any period of transition, particularly when tradition is involved.  Our world is changing at lightning speed and the church is often seen as something of a respite from the storm, a place where change, even if necessitated or appropriate may be viewed as destabilizing in ways that change elsewhere is not.

As the two Harvard Business School profs previously mentioned see it, leadership is to be distinguished from authority.  Leadership convinces people that grappling with the hard realities of perceived losses in order to make necessary changes is not just appropriate but desirable.

Technical changes are relatively easy.  The change is within the organization’s current culture or repertoire.  The driving force is a positive “we can do it attitude.”  But adaptive change is the difficult one.  It is change which requires a reassessment of loyalties or priorities which require a change in the organization’s culture or repertoire.  It is generally met with resistive forces.  It involves a sense of loss and divided loyalties.


The congregation is facing both types of change in our worship and music ministry.  For some of us, the changes are merely technical, the hymns, the technology, the staffing patterns are within our  repertoire and we are prepared with a can do attitude.  And for others of us the changes are more adaptive, they will require a change of culture and therefore a reassessment of our loyalties.  They are beyond our repertoire and the challenge will be to overcome the resistance which will keep us locked in the past and prevent us from moving forward.  They may require us to reassess what we feel are the non-negotiables in worship.

It is my hope that there will be no other priority for this congregation, no other non-negotiable, no other loyalty than that of worshipping the Lord Jesus Christ in way that speaks to modern sensibilities, in a way that holds fast to the traditions that still matter, in a fashion that recognizes we are called to make the best use of the resources which the Lord presents to us and to utilize them to His glory.  Music and preaching, praying and listening are not ends in and of themselves.  They have NO merit, NO value, NO purpose outside of bringing glory to the Lord.  And to the degree top which they do not do that they are meaningless.

The congregation is in transition, in a world that is changing more rapidly each day.  But there is one thing this and all congregations can be sure of and that is that Jesus is Lord and Jesus seeks true worshippers, those who will worship him in spirit and in truth.

spirit-and-truthWorship the Lord to give him glory, not to be refreshed (although you may well be), not to be fed (although you should be), not to teach (although your presence and behavior certainly will) but to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ.  We all need to change our attitude, our minds, and our culture as necessary to adjust to the new realities with which we are faced.  I pray the Lord shows us just how essential and exciting it is to follow him through all of the changes in our lives.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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