In negotiating global tides and currents on the high sea of cultural change, it is sometimes necessary to sail into or even through the wind. In sailing, the terms tacking and gybing refer to nautical maneuvers that do just that. If a vessel is tacking, it is sailing upwind, and it can look like it is zig-zagging across the water to its destination. Gybing (sometimes spelled jibbing) is a maneuver that turns a boat through the wind, and can be more dangerous than tacking as it is more complicated. Just as sailors, for thousands of years, have maneuvered vessels successfully into the wind and through the wind, pastors and church leaders may feel powerful headwinds when leading a church to change course. One wrong move, and your main sail or even your mast can rip or break.
A possible synonym for emergence is the word change. The shift from modernity to postmodernity is a seismic shift, and so any church grappling with emerging ministry in an emerging culture must inherently grapple with congregational change dynamics. Like tides bring regular change to bodies of water and shorelines, so too change constantly ebbs and flows in congregational life. There has been much discussion to this point of change in culture, changes in history, and changes in Biblical times. It is appropriate also to discuss the dynamics of change within congregational systems.
Not all change, of course is needed or even desirable. Many of the changes some young ministers try and lead are purely cosmetic. I once knew a young pastor who removed the pulpit from a rural sanctuary withing the first week of becoming the pastor. He also wore ragged jeans to preach in, and told people he was bringing a number of changes to his rural congregation to bring in the younger families. If he had asked around a little, he would have learned that the head deacon’s grandfather had made that pulpit in his own woodworking shop with reclaimed wood from a house fire that had killed several community members. The pulpit not only carried symbolic weight for the family who’s relative had made it. It also served as a reminder to the entire community that God can bring something positive from the ruble and ashes of life, and that even in the midst of great tragedy and suffering the mission and witness of the church carry on. The young pastor’s reason for taking the pulpit away, which he stated repeatedly to the church was “I just don’t feel comfortable preaching behind that old monstrosity!” In addition to the pulpit fiasco, the new pastor’s attire was offensive to many who saw jeans as work clothes for farming, and who wore their “Sunday best” to church as a way to honor God. Needless to say of our young pastor friend, he didn’t last six months, and sadly the church nearly split in that time.
The truth is, not all change is positive. Lots of what passes for change in any organization is merely cosmetic in nature. What would it look like for you and your organization to think about deeper, more meaningful change – change that leads to human flourishing?
(This blog post is adapted fro the forthcoming book, Sea Change: Equipping Rural Churches for the Tides of Cultural Upheaval, available everywhere books are sold this Fall.)