I met a man last week who had a very long, studied and successful career as a senior partner with one of the largest and most successful accountancy practices in U.S. history. We sat in his backyard on the kind of fall morning that makes you grateful to live in a world where there are Octobers. We drank apple cider at what he called his “lemonade table.” The table was comprised of a large piece of circular marble sitting on top of a tree stump. He explained that when Hurricane Sandy had ripped through the neighborhood, it had taken down the 200-year-old tree whose wide remains were now supporting the table top. “When life throws lemons at you,” he smiled, “…make lemonade.”
It has been said that there is something innately nostalgic and significant about the annual cascade of autumn leaves. We talked about many things, including his career. I remarked that he must have seen a great deal of change, and he smiled. He had been responsible for leading corporate strategy and he recalled a time when the firm was doing well but his partners were divided about the future. Some looked optimistically to the future, eager to meet new challenges, while others said that their preferred future was about professionally servicing the status quo with excellence. In producing a report that brought the strongest recommendation, he spent many hours looking not just within the marketplace but also to history, nature and science.
The world changes every second, and like the autumn foliage, it blows new opportunities in all directions. He recognized that the art of a life well-lived is the constant readjustment to our surroundings and those opportunities. History repeatedly reveals that the cost of doing the same thing over and over again is far greater than the cost of change. His partners agreed with the direction he proposed and the firm went on to scale new heights of success whilst at the same time raising the bar of excellence in customer care.
Someone once said that uttering the word “change” in the church is the equivalent of yelling “Shark!” at the beach! I recall that at the church I first attended in my 20s, they changed the time of the evening service and planted a new church after a few months of my showing up. I was horrified. I had found something so wonderful that I wanted to preserve my lived experience of it. This same church has now reproduced itself many times over and has a vast array of service times in church plants all over London and the U.K. I am glad that they did not ask or heed my opinion in that early season of my following Jesus and their following after God’s desire to bring the love of Jesus to more and more people.
Even when it brings a new fruitfulness, change can be really hard. Rosabeth Moss Kanter wrote, “Change is disturbing when it is done to us, exhilarating when it is done by us.” Even the godliest people naturally attach to beloved traditions and customs, and find it painful to say goodbye to them. We hate to lose those things in which we find our identity. We fear the uncertainty of the unknown. We wonder whether and where we will fit in the new order.
But to follow Jesus is to surrender to change, both personally and as a family of believers. John Henry Newman wrote, "To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often."
The Christian life is never static. This is an important concept as we cooperate with God in His process of sanctification in our individual lives. Within each of us exists the image of God and beneath the layers of sin and pain that have dinted and scraped our souls, Jesus is able to restore this image. It is through the grace of change that we are conformed to His image. The apostle Paul wrote, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2].
It is also clear that God prescribes change for His family. To the children of Israel, God brought seasons of battle and peace, and seasons with kings, judges and prophets. God’s people were never static. Psalm 23 describes God shepherding us through changing landscapes and seasons as He leads His flock to new pastures, to still waters and through the valleys.
And perhaps most profoundly, Jesus primed us to anticipate change in the increase of His Kingdom through the advance of His Church. He promised us, “… I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18). This is not a picture of the Church in a bunker, with its hands metaphorically covering its head, fending off the attacks of the enemy. This is His Church on the advance. This is a picture of His Kingdom of light prevailing over the kingdom of darkness.
I asked my friend how he had brought change to his organization with such success. He had many things to say, but what was clear to me was that change had not been brought at any cost. Pragmatic, worldly thinking says that as long as you accomplish the desired change, collateral damage is completely acceptable. This thinking has been proven to be incomplete for the business world and it certainly has no place in the Church. I am thoroughly convinced that how we achieve Jesus’ Kingdom purposes is just as important to Him as achieving the goals He has set us. We are a priesthood of all believers and there is never a time when we are permitted to throw off His mandate to shepherd His people.
Kingdom change must be distinguished by preserving and strengthening relationships. Paul wrote “…encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). And when Paul wrote “them all” he was referring to the more cautious of us and to those proponents of change who desire to move too quickly.
One of the most outstanding Biblical leaders is Joshua. In a very strategic period of change for God’s people, as they crossed the river Jordan to enter the promised land, we are told, “…and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.” (Joshua 3:17); Joshua ensured that all generations, from the youngest to the eldest, crossed over and nobody got left behind. Of paramount importance, Kingdom change will always seek to glorify God. Paul wrote, “…whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31b).
My new friend and I finished our apple cider and got up from the lemonade table. As we headed back to the house, the most exquisite Monarch butterfly followed us across the yard. My host explained that his neighbor raised butterflies in her glass house. It struck me that this was the perfect metaphor to end our conversation on the necessity and virtue of change. We can learn a lot from the butterfly. It begins its life crawling and devouring everything in its sight that is green. Then spun into a cocoon, it must surely have to overcome claustrophobia as it patiently waits for the day when it must push and struggle to exit what proved to be only temporary, papery walls. And it is exactly in the push and struggle that it grows both in strength and beauty until, on a perfect fall morning, it is finally ready to spread its wings and fly.
This article was posted with permission from Crosswalk.com.