This past week I had the opportunity to spend time with a group of church leaders and to hear Anthony (Tony) B. Robinson. Tony is an author and speaker on the subject of church transformation and leadership. I have been fortunate to hear and read a lot about these subjects. I have participated in a presbytery-offered training group and am active on the Transformation Team of our The National Capital Presbytery. Following the day with Tony, I realized that I have put into action within our congregation many of the theories that he and other leadership types advocate for. I also believe that our congregation has worked to have an openness to what God is doing in our world today.
Transformation is one of those buzz words that is bandied about. As with most language. this one word can mean a myriad of things. I thought I would give my perspective on what transformation is as we speak about it in the context of Christ Presbyterian Church.
Transformation is first and foremost an intentional process to ensure the church is discerning and acting on the mission of God. This means that it’s not about the latest fads or the personal desire of the congregation or its leadership. To be a congregation that is in transformation means that we are seeking to make our congregation reflect the individual calling that God has set for us. As such, it is a hard and, at times, painful process.
Transformation is also about honesty. Christ Presbyterian and all other churches need to be honest about their past, present and hoped-for future. No matter how much we try, we all have denial about our churches. We see ourselves as larger (or smaller) than we are. We often think we are more friendly than we are. Finally, the Church universal thinks of itself as being far more important in the world than it actually is. The once held power and influence has passed away and we are a minority voice in our culture. While all of this seems to be negative, I believe that it can actually be positive. When we are honest about who and what we are, we can then hold it up against what we believe God has called us to be. Tony cited a church’s mission statement that read, “We seek to be the best small church in the country.” This congregation embraced it’s reality and was working to make it be all it could be.
Transformation also means CHANGE! I’m sure some are saying, “Here he goes.” As you all know, change is something that we as humans don’t deal with well. We are those who thrive in systems that are stable and consistent. This is true even when the system is broken. When I speak of change, I think it’s important that we remember that all change in the church and our lives should be done with the discernment of God’s Spirit. This means that when we change, we do so with the power of God and towards a righteous end.
Tony Robinson also says that transformation also entails what he calls Re-Traditioning. Far too often we think that to transform mean we must become something totally different. Tony suggests, and I fully believe, that one of the greatest things we can do is find ways to make our traditions relevant. The fact of the matter is that many in the church don’t fully understand why we do what we do, nor do we experience the deep life-giving meaning in our traditions.
Finally, to be those who are partnering with God means that at times we have to give up things that we have held dear. Traditions and practices that don’t jive with the discerned mission and will of God in our life need to be put aside. No matter how much we hate to hear it at times, we do things just because we have always done it that way. As a congregation that is seeking to become what God would have us be, we need to be willing to say no, even to those things we have held dear. Of course these decisions need to be done prayerfully and cautiously. We need to guard ourselves from jumping on the latest bandwagon in an attempt to just be different. Nonetheless, we need to keep our mind clear and realize that some of the things we have done in the past no longer work in the world.
Obviously, these thoughts are dangerous. Transformation is something that not everyone believes the Church needs to be engaged in. The thought that “It was good enough for me” can’t be what we allow to make decisions. Rather, we need to ask, “what does God want us to do today?”