He recently retired from many years in a prominent leadership position in a venerable institution. We are having coffee discussing how he feels about retiring.

“I have one real regret,” he says. “I always knew that there had to be major changes in the way we did things. I knew we could not go on the way things were. The thing that makes me sad is that I never really got to be part of the new thing. And I still can’t imagine what it is going to look like when the new way of doing things begins to unfold.”

Every institution and every facet of our culture is caught up in a tidal wave of change. The rate of change in the past twenty years has increased exponentially. Institutions must adapt or die. No institution can afford to continue doing business today as it did fifty years ago.

I work in an institution that is the caretaker of a long and honourable tradition. We are the inheritors of a once revered way of doing things. It is difficult for such an organization to view change as anything other than a threat.

Someone said to me recently, “If the 1950’s ever return, the church will be totally ready”.

But we will not survive the changes that are upon us if our dominant desire is to recreate a fondly remembered past. At the same time we will not move forward with any depth or integrity if we merely jettison our past simply because we hope something new will give us greater appeal.

There is a trite type of change that renders some communities captive to the latest fashion. “Flavour of the month” church will always lack depth and seldom have the staying power to survive in unstable times.

So how is the church to find its way between the rigidity that resists any change simply because it is change and the superficiality that embraces every change simply because it is change?

Our only hope in answering this question is to be deeply rooted in our awareness of the presence and action of God in all of life.

Ironically, the call to resist change at all costs and the call to embrace change simply because it is change, both emerge from the same place. They are driven, not by a structural organizational imperative, but by a failure of the heart. When I rush off  after every change or put obstacles in the way of every change, I am driven by my failure to perceive the deep inner connection with God which is the true longing of my heart.

The only way for the church to navigate the treacherous territory between too much change and too little change is to be absolutely clear about our core priority.

Speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, God cogently articulates the core priority church exists to embody saying

I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord; and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.(Jeremiah 24:7)

Church exists to support hearts returning to an awareness of God and of our identity as God’s people. Everything needs to flow from this fundamental commitment. All we do needs to be aimed at supporting hearts in softening and opening to an awareness of Divine Presence.

If we get this right the question of change will begin to lose much of its urgency. And we will discover that the “new thing” for which we long is happening every day.

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