“I used to be able to put God on a shelf, but I can’t do that anymore.”
One of the things I’ve learned as a church planter is that personal change cannot be forced, controlled, or hurried.
However, corporate bodies don’t understand this and want to see quantifiable evidence of change: attendance, numbers of baptisms, and total contributions. We assume that these indicators are evidence of what is desired – life change.
But change is messy, and it frequently occurs under the surface, out of sight, and may even appear to be absent. Often, change is like a preemie in the local hospital’s NICU. Fragile, needing nourishment in small doses, and in the friendliest of environments.
And change is messy. It’s more like a pinball machine than an atomic accelerator. The balls released by pulling on the launcher careen around the table, bouncing off the pins, protected from death by the flippers – a great deal like the path a human life takes on its earthly course. You can’t predict its direction, but an experienced player can skillfully guide the ball.
Change is messy. People make bad choices in their desire to find meaning or surrender to the hopelessness that controls them. Change occurs by fits and spurts. A little here, a little there. Churches that give up on slow starters or force movement that is not possible at the time, doom the progress.
A friend of mine went to the largest local evangelical church to attend their once-a-week ladies’ Bible study. She is an agnostic on her best days, and she needed someone or someones to provide a welcoming environment. They didn’t, and she left after 2-3 times attending. She has not changed because no one wanted to give her the time and attention needed.
The person who said, “I used to be able to put God on a self” took 10 years to get to the place today where the pain of doing such is too great. 10 years of being part of a faith community that loves her and gives her the room to careen around life, making a mess as she goes, and finally coming to Jesus.