Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Jenga and Church Change

I am not a Reformation minded theologian. As I am taking a class in Reformation era history, culture and theology, it occurs to me that change comes in the church world much like kids play Jenga. I used to think that Martin Luther came up with his 95 thesis in a vacuum or by some source of divine revelation. Then, when he nailed them to the door, they caused a tidal wave of change to sweep across the theological landscape. The more I read about the era, the more authors and sources I discover from the years before Luther and Calvin, the more I realize that they were just the linchpins to a change that began hundreds of years before they came on the scene.

When kids play Jenga, the pull wooden blocks from the bottom of a stack and place them carefully on top. As they continue to pull from the bottom, of course, the structure becomes unstable. Eventually, the instability of the structure becomes irreversible and it tumbles over in a loud crash. To the outsider it seems like the person who pulled the last piece was the one at fault for then collapse of the entire structure. However, everyone playing the game and removing pieces is really, equally at fault. So it is with change in the Church.

Just like Luther may have been the one who visibly pulled out the last block causing radical change in the pre-existing understanding of the Church, he was not the cause of the overall change. He was simply the one holding the last block. His ideas were informed by many others before him. Change in the church may often seem revolutionary when it has been, in actuality, evolutionary. The evolutionary nature of the change is not at a steady pace, rather it moves slowly forward and occasionally takes a lurch forward.

In local churches, like yours and mine, a similar truth prevails. It seems like change may not be coming. Change can be good or bad. Change can meet ecstatic growth or slow decline. From the outside it may seem that the change experienced by the Church is sudden, but a careful study unveils the previous groundwork that was laid prior to the radical outcomes. The blocks were being pulled out long before you or I arrived. We just get to be the one holding the last block.

What has this taught me? First, to be slow to take credit for the great things that are happening in the church I may be serving. Those great things had a history that probably pre-dates me and may even pre-date my predecessor. Secondly, not to escape accountability in anyway, but be careful not to accept all of the blame for everything that goes wrong. This is even harder for me. While I don’t have a problem not taking the credit, I tend to take all the blame. The troubles also have deep roots. Roots that, unless somebody takes the time to pull them out, will crop up again and again.

So, change is like Jenga, and like Jenga you have to play. So, go ahead and pull out another block, it could be the one that releases amazing, God-directed change! I remain:

Consumed by the Call,
Marty Cauley

Gracious God, who is the cause of all change and whose very word called forth creation, the greatest change that has ever existed, help me to be bold in following your call to lead and love as Jesus lived and loved. Amen

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