It was long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away when it happened. Actually it was in Indiana when I was a seminary student in Louisville, Kentucky, but it was a long time ago.
This was my first experience with Hoosiers and among their first experiences with someone from the Deep South. The deacon chair told me later how they found pastors. They called the Seminary Placement Office and asked them to send someone different each week until they found one they wished to keep. He also said they’d discovered the best preachers were from Alabama and Georgia.
Nevertheless, I found myself in my first church conflict.
I read the by-laws and learned they specified when we were to do business meetings (Saturday nights), and we did them on Sundays. I asked the deacons if we shouldn’t change the by-laws, and they agreed.
The update approved simply said “at a time decided by the congregation.”
However, one of their spouses hit the ceiling. She angrily confronted me about the danger of “messing” with the by-laws.
I made an appointment with our new home church pastor in Louisville to seek advice. He told me how some people zealously guarded the status quo and urged me to use an analogy.
“A house is cherished and valuable, but we renovate it to bring it up-to-date,” he said. “This makes the home even more valuable.”
But the church’s matriarch didn’t see us merely renovating; we were demolishing.
Because the business meeting was scheduled and we’d already sent a letter to the members with a side-by-side comparison of the changes, we went ahead.
The church approved the change on the appointed Sunday (though the by-laws we had specified we should have met on Saturday!).
Perhaps as President Trump said recently, the cure was worse than the disease. In retrospect, I don’t know that it was advantageous to deal with the by-laws since no one other than me seemed to read them. And my relationship with this lady wasn’t the same. I’d like to return, with the blessings of greater wisdom, and try to deal with this situation in a different way.
It’s true that change in church is often seen as a threat, and some people’s default response is “I’m against it.” Thus, church leaders must have good reason to advocate for change.
We also must realize the priority of relationships. Unless change has to do with issues of morality, and then we have no choice, we have to weigh the benefits of change vs. the potential fall-out in good will. Scripture calls us to dwell together in mutual respect and peace.
Finding a proper balance is among the hardest things church leaders ever do.
Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster. The church's website is siluriabaptist.com.