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But they said they wanted to change!

Updated: Jan 17

“I don’t understand it! They said they wanted to change!”

I was in the middle of a conversation with a frustrated pastor in the third year of his first call. He explained that seminary had prepared him to be a change agent. He had been looking forward to working with a congregation to embrace the new things that God was doing in their neighborhood. He felt called to this congregation because in the interview they said they knew they needed to change. But they weren’t doing it. He’d propose ideas – great ideas! Their response was always: “Sure. That’s a good idea–you go ahead and do it.” NO ONE would help him make anything happen. His frustration was moving toward burnout.

“So,” I summarized “the seminary trained you to be a change agent. Right?”


“Were you also taught how to motivate change?”

“What? -umm, no.”

Then, pulling from what he’d said earlier, I asked if he could see the difference between what the interview team said: “We know we need to change” and his interpretation of that comment as “We want to change.”

He saw it. And confessed that he hadn’t expected so much resistance. He thought people would see what he was trying to do and join in.

Jesus didn’t expect people to see much of anything.

Jesus healed physical and figurative blindness. The physical happened quickly, the figurative took years. Take the story from John 9. Ruth Haley Barton explores this passage in depth in her book “Pursuing God’s Will Together.” I’ll be much briefer, but if I pique your interest, check out her work.

In John 9 Jesus and the disciples start to walk past a man born blind. The disciples have seen Jesus do miracles, but they don’t show compassion for the blind man and ask Jesus to heal him. Instead, they ask a theological question as old as Adam and Eve: Whose fault is it that this man is blind? Jesus says something close to “That’s the wrong question,” and heals the man.

The disciples follow Jesus BECAUSE he is making a difference, and yet they can’t get their heads around the changes he is showing them. The rest of the crowd doesn’t get it either.

The neighbors are perplexed. Instead of throwing a party for the man, they are suspicious. Their eyes can’t take in this new thing, so they take it to the priests.

Religious folks: priests and others, protect traditions that have been passed on from their ancestors, especially those that continue to give meaning to their lives. The priests did their jobs well. They denied the premise: This man clearly wasn’t born blind. They called in the parents.

The parents recognized the trap. If they acknowledged the miracle, they’d be kicked out of the only world they knew. They didn’t want the influential priests (or the neighbors the priest influenced) to get mad at them. They agreed he was born blind, but denied they knew how he’d been healed.

Sometimes our congregations respond to the suggestion of a change in much the same way: Some act as disciples and respond with questions instead of compassion. Some as priests and defend the old ways, and others play the role of neighbors, held under the influence of others.

How can we move all of them forward? Just like Jesus. This is what I hope I suggested to my first-call conversation partner. Commit to the message, and continually show folks what the new reality can look like. Expect resistance. Work through it, let it modify your process, but don’t let it stop you. In time, one by one, and then a few more, the crowd will catch on.

Free Resource on this theme:

If you want a process that will help you rally your disciples, priests, and neighbors around one possibility for the future click the button below.

Work with us!

We can teach you and a team from your congregation how to motivate change in your congregation. You pick the change you want to see, and we'll use it in the workshop.

Click on the "Workshop" button and then scroll down to the "Motivating Change" workshop.


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