The Great Adventure

I love fantastic stories, especially those which create entirely new worlds in my imagination. For example, The Lord of the Rings or the Star Wars Trilogy. I am currently reading a fascinating science fiction trilogy by S. M. Stirling about ‘The Change’, where the Earth has been devastated by a catastrophy that instantly eliminates all electrical devices, gasoline engines and gunpowder-based weapons worldwide. Within a year, only a small fraction of the Earth’s population has survived, mainly by regressing to medieval farming, military and political practices. An interesting subplot is what happens to religion. In Oregon, where the story mainly takes place, a nature-worshipping Wiccan sect saves many lives and becomes the predominant stabilising force in the lives of many ‘good guys.’ The ‘bad’ guys have no religion and are led by a power-hungry former Jesuit medieval professor. The author is not saying that “witches are good; Christians are bad.” He is simply saying that primitive nature-loving folk, respectfully serving the “Lord and Lady” gods of nature have a excellent survival strategy in such a world. Anthropologically, that would seem to be the case, based on studies of native American and other primitive cultures around the world.

Human Survival

At first, as I read this story, I wondered why the author hadn’t used a Christian community instead of a Wiccan group. Then I realised that the story would have been far more complex. He couldn’t easily describe a plausible, Darwinian survival strategy based on the Christian religion. In fact, as I thought about it, neither could I! Why would Christians be more fit for survival in a primitive world, or in our own modern world for that matter? That got me to thinking. The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars both have a hidden force that orchestrates the downfall of an evil Emperor. In the Change trilogy, even the Wiccan sect seems at certain points to receive help from their gods. Human survival in each of these stories doesn’t happen on its own. The authors use a story-telling device called a deus ex machina (literally, a god outside the system) to rescue the ‘good guys’ from ‘evil.’ The Force rescues Luke Skywalker. An unseen force guides Frodo through a dangerous journey to destroy Sauron’s Ring of Power. Science, in Darwin’s theory of evolution, says humans survive because we are better equiped than other living parts of the ecosystem. The authors of these fantastic stories all point toward the possibility that humans can’t survive on their own and depend on some outside force to rescue them from ultimate destruction.

God’s Great Adventure

Which brings me to the fantastic Christian story about the survival and triumph of the human race in the universe (still incomplete). You can easily understand the outline of this story in the Bible:

  • God creates the universe for his own purposes, as the framework for a great adventure story.  Mysteriously, He makes room in this story for man to choose to do both good and evil and to disrupt the world. [Genesis 1-4]
  • In the next phase of the adventure story, God selects a small band of nomads in the desert as His special people. They will learn the fundamental theme in God’s adventure story — they cannot survive on their own. They must rely on the ‘force’ to rescue them from their enemies. Otherwise, they will perish. For example, they must have God’s help to escape from Pharoah. [Genesis 12 – 15, Exodus]
  • In the next phase, God begins to prepare his people for a great event, a gift He will send the human race. His people imagine that this is a great military leader who enable them to conquer all their enemies, a ‘Messiah’ who will be the ‘King of Kings.’ [For example Isaiah 49, from among many references]
  • In the next phase, God announces that He is the promised gift. He enters creation as Jesus and demonstrates how mankind is to live, as His Sons and Daughters. In the climax of this part of the story, Jesus demonstrates that evil has no power to kill us, and that taking part in God’s plan to rescue the world from evil (like Luke Skywalker and Frodo) is how we humans are to be a crucial part of His great adventure. [The four Gospels]
  • In the final phase of the story (the phase that we are living in today), all humans are learning how to live as God’s sons and daughters. Christians have special insights into His plan, and therefore special obligations, but no monopoly on doing His will. For 2000 years, the story has been filled with danger, heros and villains, battles and defeats, and surprising turns-of-events, like any good adventure story. Occasionally, things seem about to fall apart but, mysteriously, a deus ex machina rescues us at critical points. The story is guaranteed to have a happy ending! [Paul points to this in Ephesians 1 and Romans 5]

The Christian Role in God’s Story

One of the main obligations of Christians is to tell everyone the story of God’s great adventure — to give them hope, and help them trust God when things seem about to fall apart. We need to tell this story in a way that different people from diverse backgrounds can understand their part in God’s story. I have tried to illustrate how to do that in this post. Our task is not so much to ‘convert’ Wiccans and other non-Chrisitians but rather to help them understand the larger context of a loving God’s great adventure story in which their part can be better understood. It is up to God whether, and if, and how they will be ‘converted.’ In fact, in their diversity they may play an important role in ‘converting’ us Christians.

 

Three Cheers for Empathy AND Religion!

In a recent Sydney Morning Herald essay entitled Evil lives when empathy dies, Simon Baron-Cohen wrote “Unlike religion, empathy cannot, by definition, oppress anyone.” I applaud his praise of empathy but, intentionally or not, the author has reinforced a stereotype — Religion equates to oppression. Christians need to understand that such statements represent the conventional wisdom of our culture and how many people typically see religion, including Christianity. If you ask the average man on the street to do a word association test, when you say ‘religion,’ I wager you will get mainly negative responses, all centered around religion limiting human freedom, historically and in the present.

Empathy accepts  the situation of another person, just as it is. We show genuine concern for another human being. What does religion do? Does it accept people empathically and show concern for them, or something else? To answer this, we need to look at the human situation as God sees it. Only then can we understand what we humans are attempting to do — and how well we have succeeded — when we create an organised way to relate to God, otherwise called religion.

A fundamental axiom of Judiasm and Christianity is that God created men and women to be free, like He is free. “When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God.” [Genesis 5:1] So, a key purpose of any religion ought to be to assist men and women in recognising that we are like God and meant to be free. It is evident that historically, all religions, not just Christianity have gone astray from this purpose. So, ought we now decide to ‘throw the baby out with the bath water’ and eliminate all religions?

If one doesn’t believe in God, then religion is extraneous. But if you do believe,  then Religion is essential to discovering our true freedom and our likeness to God. We learn about God from others. Human beings can have some contact with God in a spiritual sense without religion. But we can never know God as God is because God is essentially unknowable unless He communicates with us. All the major religions — Judiasm, Christianity, Islam — base their authority on God speaking to us and revealing who He is. The Christian religion claims that God Himself, in the person of Jesus Christ is the full and final revelation of who God is. Making such a claim, Christians perhaps have more to answer for, beacsue so many men now conclude based on the historical evidence that man now longer needs religion!

Bernard Cooke sums up the Christian religion’s responsibility like this: “Christianity’s relevance is directly proportionate to the extent to which it can make the presence of Christ effective in the lives of men.” [in Christian Community: Response to Reality] If men do not encounter Jesus when they encounter the Christian religion, then we must change whatever has created that situation! That is the most fundamental “burning platform” for transforming local churches!

Reading the Bible, it is clear that people experienced Jesus through his empathy! The parable of the Good Samaritan makes that abundantly clear — and its message to  Christians is also clear: “Go and do likewise.” If men experience Christianity as rules and judgment and limitation of freedom, and do not experience empathy, then we have to expect that they will not see Jesus in our actions. Christianity without empathy is a false religion!

 

Are you kidding me? The World is filled with grace? What about Auschwitz or Rwanda?

How could grace have been present when millions were murdered in concentration camps, or in genocidal racial conflicts? We know that broken and sinful men and women did the awful deeds at Auschwitz and in Rwanda. We know that the “system of the world,” political and religious, stood by and let this happen. Where was grace? That question boils down to how does God see the world and how does he want us to act in the light of these undenible horrors?

In a word, God sees the world as being profoundly “wounded” and in need of healing. Many modern secular thinkers are beginning to see the same thing and have written scholarly studies about what has been happening in our world, good and bad, over the past 500 years since the ‘enlightenment.’  The sociologist Pierre Bourdieu coined the term “Précarité” (precariousness) to describe what ensues, when all our trustworthy structures and rules seem to many to fall apart. The foundations have been removed from beneath everything western civilization thought was reliable only a few years ago.  Now, many people feel that there is nothing solid underneath our ideas, and certainly nothing that transcends these ideas. This emptiness creates a vacuum of values, one that has no solution because we ‘deconstruct’ any solution that is offered.  We cannot fill the vacuum we create with postmodern scientific and philosophic views with anything reliable.  There is no language, at least that we trust anymore, to express true values. Religions have such language but they are not trustworthy according to our rational standards of truth.

At the core of our being is a paradox that we cannot resolve: We hunger for meaning, yet, in the deepest sense and as far as our minds can reach, we sense that we cannot create trustworthy meaning for ourselves. “The western mind . . . by the late twentieth century had largely dissolved the foundations of the modern world view, leaving the contemporary mind increasingly bereft of established certainties, yet also fundamentally open in ways it had never been before.”  [1] The only solution is trusting in  meaning outside ourself, in acknowledgement of our dependence. But another modern crisis – reducing our ability to trust — does not permit us to do this! Catch 22. So, the vast majority of people simply refuse to think about such ‘deep and meaningful’ things at all! The explosion of ideas on the Internet and of chatter on Mobile Phones is how many people hide their emptiness from themselves.

Trust is based on reliable people and reliable institutions. While we may still trust our spouse or our neighbour, there has been an almost universal loss of trust in institutions, especially religion in the twentieth century. How often have you heard, “I’m spiritual but not religious” or “organized religion” used as an epithet? Consequently, as trust in churches and religion eroded, as it has in the west, trust in Jesus as a leader has also eroded.

Finally, there is a crisis in the use of power, reflected primarily in the economic system of the world. The “new economy” is creating great wealth for a few but is also creating deep feelings of anxiety and confusion.  “The rewards of the new economy are coming at the price of lives that are more frenzied, less secure, more economically divergent, more socially stratified.” [2] Everyone has been exposed to the financial insecurities caused by the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). More to the point, billions of people on our planet are living marginal lives while a relative handful lives in extraordinary comfort, controlling most of the world’s wealth.

At long last, the voices of women are also being heard about the misuse of power in the system of the world. “There is a white patriarchical male system. The dominant system is destructive to people . . .” [3] Small wonder that many women feel like second class people in American and Australian society, and poorly used in most organizations. The women in every society on the planet feel (and many millions are) oppressed by a male-dominated system! Perhaps, the wounds of our world are becoming apparent to you.

In summary, we find ourselves at an apparent dead-end. The daily deconstruction of what we previously believed in has removed the safe harbours of belief of the past.  We can’t go back and find safety.  There is a widespread sense of something being missing or lost, creating emptiness and the inability to act.  “Mental depression – a feeling of one’s impotence, of inability to act, and particularly the inability to act rationally, to be adequate to the tasks of life – becomes the emblematic malaise of our late modern or postmodern times.”  [4]

The mind of man has created many wonderful things – but it has also created the situation that I have just described. How? By its insistence, particularly in the western world, that the mind of Jesus has no power in modern society. There are many ‘humanistic’ programs trying to deal with the situation – feeding the poor, healing the sick, sheltering the homeless, providing ‘safety nets’ to the ‘have nots’ – and I applaud these. Many are sponsored by Christian organizations. But these programs do not (and cannot) heal the deep wounds that I have described. That is why Jesus came to earth and commanded the Christian church to grow and make disciples of all mankind – to heal the wounds that man’s power and pride have inflected on the human race and the world.

By now, the mind of God must be obvious to you, once you begin to see the world and leaders as wounded. Empathy, compassion, going out and searching for those in need, self- forgetfulness, practical help not words. All these characterize Jesus’ ministry and the ministries of many Christians over the past 2000 years. Yet, Jesus was focused on individuals and, when he encountered the ‘system’ did not seem to explicitly try to change it, even the Jewish religious system.

So, you may say that one way of healing the world might for us to simply imitate Jesus – ignore the system and heal individuals. A case can be made for that. But, to me the lessons of Auschwitz and Rwanda are too plain — tending to the victims of the wounded system is not enough. Jesus’ transforming power shines ‘light’ on the system too. Christians must also change the system that allowed (and still allows) such crimes to happen, while ministering to its victims wherever they may be found. That is another reason why we must transform local churches!

Walter Brueggemann in Finally Comes the Poet summarized God’s transformational view of our situation. “When that speech of God’s fidelity, sovereignty, and presence is uttered again, the world is changed. The silence of God has been oppressive, but somehow we had not noticed. We imagined we were children of modernity: liberated, autonomous, on our own. We thought the speech of this other one had been banished and with good riddance. But the ideology of autonomy is not sufficient. It leads eventually to alienation, isolation, and rage. In our autonomous silence, we deny our true selves, created as we are, for conversation, communion, trust, and yielding.” Brueggemann then quotes the prophet Isaiah: “For a time time I have held my peace, I have kept still and restrained myself ; Now . . . I will lead the blind in a way that they know not, in paths that they have not known I will guide them.” [Isa 42:14-16] Transforming your local church means taking this promise of God seriously. Christians need to become God’s right arm of loving transformation, fulfilling His purpose of rescuing the human race from its stubborness and ignorance –even though we believe our knowledge of the world and our ability to find solutions on our own are sufficient.


[1] Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind, Ballantine Books, New York, 1991, p. 394.

[2] Robert Reich, The Future of Success, Knopf, new York, 2000, p. 8

[3] Anne Wilson Schaef and Diane Fassel, The Addictive Organization, Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1988, p 44.

[4] Zygmunt Bauman, The Individualized Society, Polity Press, London, 2001, p. 43.

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C. How Do We Get There? — Understanding the ‘Journey’ of Transformation

The best way to begin to understand what transforming a local church means is to use the metaphor of a ‘journey.’ There are a number of  journeys in the Bible but I will use the exodus from Egypt to illustrate the major features of a ‘journey of transformation.’ [1]

There are three major parts to the Exodus story: preparation and the decision to make the journey, the actual journey, and arrival in the Promised Land. I will briefly summarize some of the main features of each of these and relate them to transforming a local church.

Preparation and the decision to make the journey

From our perspective, looking back thousands of years with the eyes of faith, Moses is one of God’s heroes, so when we use the exodus journey as a metaphor for transforming a local church, we may become confused. Should we wait for a ‘hero’ to arrive, to lead us? Are we inflating the role of Change Agent, which we must fulfill, so that it requires heroic qualities beyond the reach of ordinary people? I suggest putting ourselves in Moses’ shoes, and seeing him as a reluctant leader and unlikely hero. That is precisely who we are, as we consider being Change Agents in our local church. [2]

The journey of transformation in Exodus begins with Moses’ personal change. He became aware of how badly the Hebrews were treated by the Egyptians, and killed an Egyptian who was beating one of the Israelites. To escape Pharaoh’s vengeance, Moses fled to escape being killed himself. “I can’t stay in this situation anymore” is generally the experience that starts an individual down a path toward finding ways to change the status quo.

Moses created a new life for himself as a shepherd in Midian, but he wasn’t yet a Change Agent. That was God’s work. God chose Moses, to transform the situation of his Chosen People. “God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.” [Exodus 2:22] The sequence of events leading to Moses acceptance and performance of his role as Change Agent shows us our own personal path toward becoming ready to transform our local church. There are three steps in this preparation stage:

Encountering God

One day, while he was tending his father-in-laws’ sheep, Moses had an encounter with God. The burning bush got his attention, and he heard God’s voice calling him, “Moses! Moses! And Moses said, ‘Here I am.’” [Exodus 3:4b] God’s call collided with Moses own awareness of the Hebrews situation. Our personal struggles as Christians are the preparation for God’s call to us. Our willingness to listen is how we play our part in His plan to use us to fulfill His purposes. That may include becoming a Change Agent in our local church, if we open ourselves to that possibility.

Overcoming doubts

“So, now go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” [Exodus 3:10] God’s call is very clear and explicit in the Biblical retelling of the Exodus story. But you can also see how difficult it was for Moses to respond to God. “But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh   and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’” [Exodus 3: 11] In the verses that follow, Moses throws up one question and doubt after another, which God answers patiently, “How do I prove that God actually is behind this? What is your name?” “Why should the Israelites listen to me? What if they don’t believe me?” We can easily identify with these questions. Discerning a call from God is difficult, especially when we can so easily be misled by our own ego or give in to our fears. God’s reassurance to Moses was to provide other like-minded people to support him in the journey. God sent Aaron, Moses’ brother with him as a companion on the journey. “I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do.” [Exodus 4: 15b] In transforming a local church, a small group of like-minded Change Agents is crucial in discerning the mind of Jesus and having the courage and resilience needed to undertake the difficult journey of transformation.

Decision to make the journey

The final step in preparation is taking the first irrevocable step on the journey, which involves a firm decision to leave the status quo. In Moses case, he first asked Jethro his father-in-law for permission to leave Midian. “Let me go back to my own people in Egypt to see if any of them are still alive.” [Exodus 4:18] He met Aaron and then all the elders of the people of Israel and, with Aaron’s help, convinced them that God wanted them to leave Egypt. In the case of a local church, this decision step involves convincing and aligning the Pastor and important people in the local church about God’s desire that the whole church begin the journey of transformation. This can be a difficult and discouraging process. “The Israelites did not listen (to Moses) because of their discouragement and cruel bondage.” [Exodus 6: 9] But God was insistent, even though Moses was discouraged. “Moses said to the Lord, ‘If the Israelites will not listen to me, why would Pharaoh listen to me, since I speak with faltering lips?’” [Exodus 6:12] And God kept on saying to Moses, “I am the Lord. Tell Pharaoh king of Egypt everything I tell you.” [Exodus 6:29] That is the choice that Change Agents must make: to focus on their own internal self-doubts or to focus on God’s insistent urgings to make the journey of transformation that God desires.

The actual journey

The actual Exodus journey seems to begin after the Pharaoh relented and let the Hebrews go. Before that happened however, there were the plagues, culminating in the ‘Passover’ when God killed the firstborn of every Egyptian but spared the Hebrews who had showed their faithfulness in smearing blood from a sacrificed lamb on their doorposts. Were the plagues and Passover part of the journey? Yes, because every significant change journey can only begin with an ‘ending’ stage. The Hebrews had to experience something that would make them leave their usual surroundings behind and end their familiar life, even slavery, to set off into a barren desert toward an unknown destination. That didn’t just depend on Moses and Aaron’s persuasion but on God’s clearly demonstrated support for their journey. The plagues and Passover were unmistakable evidence of this and bound the Israelite community together in a common purpose: to make a dangerous journey to find the Promised Land.

How can we relate the plagues and Passover to what we can expect from God in transforming a local church? God doesn’t always signal his support so dramatically. Elijah experienced God’s support for his mission and journey as a ‘gentle whisper.’ [1 Kings 19: 12b] The question is, should Change Agents expect some sign of God’s support for their mission of transforming a local church? Or should they depend on their own powers of enrollment and persuasion to unify their community at the beginning of the journey of transformation? As I ponder this, I believe that Change Agents should not depend on their own talents and resources. God will send signs of His support but they may be surprisingly ordinary ‘whispers’ not dramatic plagues. This highlights the strong need for prayer and discernment at the beginning of the change journey, when ‘endings’ and leaving the familiar behind will be required. Combine this with the requirement that the whole church community must make the journey, not just a few ‘early adopters,’ and the ending and setting off stage may be quite protracted, as the community waits and discerns God’s support for the journey.

The Israelites’ journey also started with great drama. Pharaoh let them go, then changed his mind and descended on the helpless Hebrews with his entire army. They wailed in fear, “What have you done to us? . . . It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” [Exodus 14: 11-12] We all know the story of what happened next, and probably have an image of Charlton Heston stretching out his hands and parting the waters for the Hebrews, and then stretching out his hands again and bringing the waters on top of Pharaoh’s army to drown them all. What can this mean for our journey?

This is a story of learning to trust, in God’s promises and in our own decision to set off on a journey of transformation. If we unpack the story in Exodus, Pharaoh’s change of heart can be seen as a loss of comfortable assumptions about transforming church and a collision with the harsh realities of opposition and discouragement. In the exodus story God told Moses what was going to happen, in advance, and Moses reassured the people.  I heard another story years ago that helped me understand this same situation.

I was leading a Change Team in a large Insurance company a number of years ago, and one of the executives described the ‘change journey’ like this.

“I was flying across America a few years ago on a brilliantly clear day. We were at 39.000 feet as we approached the Rocky Mountains, and I happened to notice some small towns in eastern Colorado. If you have ever been there, you know that the eastern third of Colorado is all barren, dry plains, with few trees and very little water. As I looked at these small towns I wondered why anybody would ever settle in a place like that. Then a reason occurred to me.

“I imagined that some poor farmers in Missouri, a thousand miles to the east, had heard about California and decided that the farm that they struggled to make successful wasn’t worth the effort. So they talked to some of their neighbors, who basically felt the same way and they all decided to go to California. They sold their farms, bought covered wagons and set off for the ‘promised land’ in California.  After traveling without any particular difficulty for a month or so, suddenly they saw the Rocky Mountains in the distance, on the horizon. Every day the mountains grew in size until, one day they seemed to fill the horizon with an impenetrable barrier.

“The farmers had a map someone had given them, and it showed a trail through the Rockies but it also showed that the journey to California would be all mountains and desert from now on, as soon as they entered the mountains. It all seemed too hard, almost impossible, so they just gave up their dream about a new life in California and settled right where they were, in those desolate plains of eastern Colorado.”

That business executive told his story to illustrate the importance of understanding the barriers and risks of the change journey – and the vital need of having guides on the journey who understand what will happen, who can help the community get past these barriers. That is the vital role that Change Agents must fulfill in transforming local churches. That is what Moses did for the Israelites, reassuring them that God had promised to be with them and was actively working on their behalf. “But Moses said, ‘Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. . . The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.’” [Exodus 14: 13-14]

Arrival in the Promised Land

When does the journey of transformation end? Do we really ever arrive at a new church? Indeed, perhaps we never fully arrive until the final coming of Jesus. We always remain a ‘pilgrim church.’ So, how can we understand ‘arriving’ as a result of transforming church? The Israelites journeyed in the desert forty years before they entered Canaan. Arrival was a process that happened to them both before and after they reached the political border of the physical land that was given to them. This process can be seen as a ‘continuous arrival in the Promised Land’ in God’s time, according to his plan. We can expect the same ‘continuous arrival at new church’ on our own journey of transformation. How does this process of ‘continuous arrival in the Promised Land’ work?

As the Israelites were about to enter Canaan, Moses looked back over their forty years in the desert. [3] He reminded them of everything the Lord had done for them, in spite of their continued grumbling and losses of faith. He reminded them that they hadn’t trusted God before they fought the Amorites. “You grumbled in your tents and said, ‘The Lord hates us; so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us.” [Deuteronomy 1:27] And, indeed, because they were hardhearted and did not trust in God, the Amorites “chased you like a swarm of bees and beat you down from Seir all the way to Hormah.” [Deuteronomy 1:44] Moses told them this story before he retold their encounter with the Law, which established how they were to live in the Promised Land. “Walk in all the ways that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess.” [Deuteronomy 5:33] What do these two stories say about ‘continuous arrival’ in a journey of transformation?

God promised to give a homeland to the Hebrews, and led them through transformational experiences to prepare them to live in this land as he wishes them to live. He fed them with Manna when they were starving and provided water from the rock. He clearly showed them that when they trusted him, he did great works in their behalf – but when they didn’t trust him, they were like any other people and could be defeated. He gave Moses very explicit instructions in the Law, which described life in his kingdom. “If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the Lord your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your forefathers.” [Deuteronomy 7:12] Seen from this perspective ‘continuous arrival’ means gradual growth of a community into God’s people. In the journey that a local church makes, we should expect the same type of gradual growth, as well as times of forgetting and backsliding. The Change Agents must create the desire in the community to continue the journey no matter what happens in the short term.

Viewing the full sweep of the history of the Israelites from our current day perspective, you can easily see that they and their descendents are still ‘arriving’ in the Promised Land, and not yet fully there in the 4000 years since Abraham. And we Christians are just the same as them, ‘continuously arriving’ in God’s promised kingdom of the New Covenant but not yet there. While we may feel that we have learned a great deal from our transformational journey over 2000 years, we are still in the arrival process, with all its human foibles and need for divine forgiveness. Change Agents need to understand that whatever accomplishments may be achieved by the local church as it tries to more closely follow the mind of Jesus, the journey will continue. This awareness of the local church’s role in ‘Salvation History’ as well as learning to be mindful of its practical consequences in the life of the church is one of the important steps in the journey of transformation.

The final irony in Deuteronomy is that Moses could not enter the Promised Land. He “broke faith with (the Lord) in the presence the Israelites . . . and did not uphold my holiness among the Israelites. Therefore, you will see the land only from a distance; you will not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel.” [Deuteronomy 32: 51-52] This is a clear warning to Change Agents and leaders in local churches. There are risks in the transformational journey, and those who lead the church need to be aware of them and take them seriously. These risks should not discourage the community from undertaking the journey. In God’s Plan, churches cannot opt out of making the journey. To me, these risks once again emphasize the need for prayer. Only by trusting that God is going before the church, to prepare the way and the Promised Land, can we find the courage to be Change Agents and leaders of this journey.

Lessons from Exodus for the church’s journey of transformation

I will not cover the practical details of how to help a local church make a journey of transformation in this Blog. I am currently writing A Guide to Transforming Your Local Church which will be available on this website when it is completed. The process I will  describe in that Guide is based on the experiences of many experts in organizational change. Equally important, I have amplified that organizational change process to take into account the lessons of the holy journey of transformation that each church is being called to make, as exemplified in Exodus.

Briefly, here are a few lessons that we can learn from Exodus about each local church’s journey of transformation.

Lesson 1. The change journey of a local church is difficult.

Exodus does not describe a ‘change project,’ or finding practical everyday solutions to help the Hebrews live better and serve God in the land of Egypt. It describes an incredible adventure, of leaving, being pursued, almost starving, facing countless enemies and finally arriving after many years of wandering in a vast wasteland. Understanding this, preparation for the journey is vital, especially of the church’s leaders.

Lesson 2. The change journey needs dedicated people – Change Agents — who can see where the church must go and help the church’s leaders see the path and guide them through the steps.

The Hebrews would never have left Egypt unless God had sent Moses to them. They were trapped in slavery and surrounded by a formidable barrier, the vast desert. They didn’t know where to go or how to get there. Local churches need Change Agents who, with God’s help, can persuade the church’s leaders that the journey must be made, and then support them and the entire community as the journey progresses.

Lesson 3. The change journey needs leaders who are strongly committed to help the entire church community make this difficult journey

God led the Hebrews using a few people, the leaders and elders. They were the essential intermediaries who, with Moses help, saw what God was doing on the journey and communicated this to the Hebrews. Transforming a local church is not a ‘one person job,’ for a charismatic leader or anyone else. It requires that a number of people in the church fulfill leadership roles in the journey.

Lesson 4. The ones who actually have to change – the entire community, including leaders and Change Agents – need to be supported every step of the journey.

The Hebrews constantly struggled on the journey. If they could have gone back to Egypt, they would have. They lost trust in God and even worshipped a Golden Calf. Yet, God chose the entire community as his people, not just a few people that were ‘good enough’ to make the journey.  Helping people change their long established habits is one of the key challenges that Change Agents and leaders must deal with when transforming a local church.

Lesson 5. The leaders and Change Agents need to anticipate the risks of the change journey and put plans in place to lessen or eliminate those risks proactively.

God knew what the Hebrews faced before they did, and prepared ways to help them get past these risks. The Lord told Moses what he should do, to help the people find Manna or defeat their enemies. In the same way, Change Agents and leaders need to depend on God to help them past the difficulties they will surely face. Some of these risks are common on any change journey, such as change resistance. Some are unique to the challenge that the church faces in the 21st century. Prayerful awareness and preparation are an essential undertaking for leaders and Change Agents.


[1] I will use the terms journey of transformation and change journey interchangeably. While all changes may not be transformational, transforming a local church is generally concerned with making numerous changes, some small and some large.

[2] There is a mythic dimension to undertaking a journey of transformation, which Joseph Campbell described in his classic Hero with a Thousand Faces. He described this mythic journey as ‘a hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” In this sense, the Change Agents I describe in this book are heros, because they intend to leave the everyday common world of church and, with Jesus’ help, successfully help their fellow Christians find the ‘boons’ of a new way of being church. However, I will not expand or emphacize this heroic aspect of transformation. Jesus never saw himself as a hero and neither should we. See Philippians 2: 6-11.

[3] This retrospective look is contained in the Book of Deuteronomy.