What Change Feels Like
Some Jews from Asia stirred up the crowd. They seized Paul, shouting, “This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against our people and our law.” – Acts 21:27-28 (adapted)
Some of Paul’s fellow Jews believe he’s teaching a full-on repudiation of everything that’s defined them as a people. So they’re mad. Murderously so.
Church leaders can identify with Paul. You preach new angles on the tradition, suggest trying out other ways of doing church, ask people to re-think their assumptions, and you get angry pushback, even vicious conflict.
But you can also identify with the angry folks.
The church needs challenge, fresh imagination. Some traditions need rethinking or abandoning. But sometimes the drive to renew things can convey the message that everything old is bad, traditions are outmoded simply because they’re traditions, and if you want to keep them, you’re outmoded, too. And that’s upsetting.
Once when I was blithely bulldozing a congregation into change, convinced they’d love it, I noticed a much-respected, deeply faithful 60-year member quietly resisting. In a committee meeting, after I announced the jettisoning of yet another inherited practice, she finally spoke up.
“So, you’re saying that those of us who’ve always been here doing everything we can to build this place up have been doing it wrong for all these years?”
Sometimes that’s what it feels like. It’s not just things like parochialism, patriarchy, and racism that lie behind churchy resistance to change. Sometimes it’s also, and simply, bewilderment. And the sting of ingratitude.
Change routinely prompts resistance. But it also surfaces honest questions about the meaning of the past and the human need to feel honored.
Whenever change seems the faithful thing to do, for the sake of mutual love and empathy, let’s attend to these things.
Holy Spirit, change is hard, but we can do it well if you give us insight and empathy, gratitude and respect. Please do.
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.