Today's Lectionary Text
At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them. But he said to them, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.” So he continued proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea.
Change is hard.
This time of year, many United Methodist pastors and churches receive news that shakes up their world. The Great Plains Conference website flurries with a new influx of activity. Disappointment and excitement, sadness and joy fill the air of our sanctuaries and jumps off the pages of our newsletters. It is appointment season.
In the United Methodist Church, pastors are “itinerant;” that is, they go where the Bishop appoints them. Since pastors are up for reappointment each year, they may stay at a church for as little as one year or serve there for many years.
I experienced this system first-hand as a preacher’s kid. From the time I was born until I graduated from high school, my father served in seven different communities (and has served in many others since). There were times when the moving and starting over broke my heart and filled me with anger. But then there were times after the dust settled, when new friends were made and new connections were forged, that I could see the strength in embracing the change.
I began noticing there was always new and different work to be done when we arrived at a church. No two appointments ever met my father with exactly the same challenges, and no two churches met my family with exactly the same opportunities. My father’s particular gifts and the church’s unique mission field met up in a way that allowed the Holy Spirit to do a new thing in that time and place. When we left, the following pastor would bring fresh gifts into that church, allowing the growth and ministry to continue.
I noticed the strengths these continual changes were forming in me. Following my father’s example, I learned to trust that God had a plan for us in each place we lived and that I could lean on God during any uncertainty. I learned to be resilient and adaptive, and to be in community with different kinds of people. I even realized that I actually like change! (Well, sometimes.)
I have now been a member of one church for nearly 14 years, having served as staff in different capacities for eight years. When the opportunity came for me to work for the Great Plains Conference, things were going well in my position at the church. I loved my job and there was great energy about my work. It didn’t make sense that I should feel moved to leave. But God was calling me to move on.
Now that I work for the conference, things are still going well back at the church. The person fulfilling my former duties has brought new ideas and made changes I would not have done, and this is a good thing! Holding on to my comfortable ways would not have allowed the Holy Spirit to do a new thing in that church.
As members of mainline denominational churches, we tend to hold on to our old ways. We know this. We hold on in spite of, or because of, our changes in pastoral leadership. We are afraid to make changes in programming, staffing, music and interior decorating because we are afraid that something new might devalue what was done before. But we have to let go of that fear.
When Jesus is begged to stay in one place, he doesn’t keep doing the safe, comfortable thing, but responds, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.”
We may not be sent to other cities, as Jesus and many of our clergy are, but we are called to receive the Holy Spirit and follow its leading.
Change is hard. But it is good.
Great Plains Social Media and Web Specialist
Prayer for Reflection
In this season of change across our conference and across our denomination, help us to open ourselves to the calling of the Holy Spirit and allow You to do a new thing in ourselves, our churches and our communities. Amen.
Editor's note: This devotional originally appeared Feb. 9, 2019.
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