Monday, October 10, 2016

The Crisis of Comfort

I love my chair. It is soft and familiar and well-worn in all the right places. It fits me just right. When I come home from work after a stressful day I know that my chair will be waiting and that I can ease myself into it and feel a sense of comfort, even when everything else is swirling around me.

But not everyone sees my chair the same way, not even everyone in my own family. Instead of well-worn, they might say that it is worn out and that it has seen better days. They might say that I should get a new chair, one that looks nicer and fits with the rest of the d├ęcor. You see, the problem is that my chair is located right in the middle of the living room, between the sofa and the more stylish upholstered furniture.  It doesn’t match any of it and my wife has had to build the rest of the room around my sacred recliner. I know my family thinks that it is old and out-of-place, but I stubbornly hang on, refusing to sacrifice my safe space for the sake of developing a living room motif that actually looks good and makes sense.

The other night as we were discussing the virtues of relocating my chair, it struck me that this situation is very similar to the way we often approach ministry. Within our churches and even within our ministries themselves, we have practices, approaches, and strategies that have become comfortable through repeated use. We repeat them because they work. We use them over and over again because we like the results they achieve.  They become familiar, both to us and to our church members, and in the process they may even become a part of our tradition. There are many practices that we have ritualized over time and that are both valued and appreciated by pastors and worshipers alike. The way we celebrate communion, the activities that express community in our congregations, our personal worship leadership style, even the way committees do the work of the church – all are a part of the particular fingerprint of a congregation. Perhaps you have practices that enable you to do particular ministry functions – the process you use for sermon preparation, the way you meet with families at the time of a death, your approach to visitation within the congregation and the larger community. Sometimes our strategies are comfortable because they work.

But what happens when our context changes around us?  Our churches are rarely static.  Sometimes membership or attendance increases – or decreases.  Often the nature of the community in which we live evolves in unexpected ways. Now and then we discover that events that used to work well seem to have outlived their usefulness or their practicality. As the world in which we do ministry takes on a new shape, vital churches frequently need to change with it, so that we can more effectively reach out and minister in God’s name.

Very often change is hard. Perhaps we have reached the point where we don’t need that second service, or maybe the choir doesn’t have enough members to sing every Sunday, or it may be that the Men’s breakfast Bible Study has just run out of gas.  But change is not always due to decline.  Sometimes it happens as we grow. There are times when we have run out of room in our Sunday school rooms, or we need to think about adding staff to help with our ministry responsibilities, or heaven forbid, maybe there are some who are tired of the old blue hymnal and think that it is time to upgrade.

Change opens up possibilities for new and different ways of doing ministry. But it is a bit like changing the furniture in the living room.  We can add a new sofa and a new lamp, but if that same old recliner is still in the middle of the room we can’t get the effect we have hoped for. When we get caught up in our comfortable way of doing ministry and refuse to see the possibilities that come with a change of scenery or a change of programming or a change in practice, our crisis of comfort is a bit like my refusal to get rid of my old chair.  We can actually impede the progress that is in the best interest of our church.

Now don’t fall for the old myth that any change is good change. That is simply not true.  But change that comes with a purpose and a dream and an opportunity to bring glory to God is worth examining.  Very often we as pastors are concerned that we cannot get our church members to buy into new ideas that we want to try.  But every now and then, we may be the ones who stand in the way. Sitting in our comfortable easy chair, doing things the way we have always done them, and failing to see that we ourselves may be the barrier to growth.

Think about your ministry. Are there ways you are experiencing a crisis of comfort that is actually a barrier to the change your church actually needs? Sometimes that chair is perfect right where it is and sometimes it needs to go. How can you be a catalyst for the kind of change that will bring new vitality to the work and mission of your congregation? Try moving the “furniture” around a bit. The results may surprise you.