The Johnson family is in the process of moving. As empty-nesters, my wife Deb and I are taking the step of downsizing our house and right-sizing our budget for the next phase of life. A realtor was secured. A stager provided a punch list for maintenance and de-cluttering. Contractors cared for some repair and replacement. A photographer took pictures for the website. The posting was released on the multiple listing service (MLS). Open house dates are scheduled. Who knows—by the time you read this, we may have a purchase agreement!
But this task-driven business process doesn’t tell the whole story, because a house isn’t just a piece of real estate…it’s also a home. Moving stirs an interesting blend of physical exhaustion, mixed emotion, and intellectual decisions. In an effort to “neutralize” in order to attract a potential buyer, family décor gives way to styles and color that attract more broadly. We know what we should do to appeal to the stranger who walks through our door, but it’s dramatically different than what we would do if we were simply concerned with keeping our home comfortable for ourselves. Moving confronts us with the difficult challenge of giving up personal preference for a greater purpose.
It’s not unlike the challenging dynamic when the church is on the move. When invited into a process of transition, some of the most frequent observations people make about their church include:
• “It’s just the right size for me.”
• “I think everyone’s very friendly.”
• “What we’ve been doing is good enough for me.”
• “We all know each other.”
• “We don’t want to be like the mega-church across town.”
• “I feel comfortable here.”
• “We’ve always done it this way!”
When it comes to church, numbers aren’t everything, but being driven by God’s purpose rather than our personal preference certainly is! Perhaps the greatest barrier to achieving God’s purpose is falling into the trap of thinking that the church exists to meet our own needs rather than the needs of those not within our fellowship. A few lessons from the moving van might help reorient our perspective:
• De-clutter the calendar and volunteer commitments that don’t directly contribute to making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
• De-personalize traditions and programs that exclude others, like cliques at a high school reunion.
• Repair relationships and model constructive conflict resolution.
• Clean up ministries and resource allocation so they align with a clear and compelling vision.
• Stage invitation, welcoming, and follow up procedures and practices as if you truly expect to receive guests.
• An open house church authentically demonstrates open hearts, minds, and doors!
Whether we’re moving a house or a church, it’s an experience that pushes us beyond our comfort zone. We’re forced to make difficult choices. We may grieve losing some things from the past and fear an unknown future. We can become fatigued by change. Even so, we are pilgrims of a faith that has always been strongest when we stop standing still.
Dan Johnson is now the Twin Cities District superintendent for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. He used to be director of congregational development and Reach • Renew • Rejoice.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church