Five football coaches were recently interviewed on the SEC Network and were asked how the game has changed. Each talked about the speed of the game, the no huddle and spread offense. Nick Saban was on the panel and commented, “Last year our defense ran 178 more plays than we did the year before because offenses are so fast now.” He said, “I would love to keep it like it was but the game has changed. Today’s pace is more exciting and the spectators like it better.” From a change perspective, consider this: there are still four quarters, a field goal counts three points, there is still a 100-yard field, and an offense must gain ten yards to get a first down. These are the facts of the game, the non-negotiables. But what are the negotiables? A coach certainly has the option to adapt or continue to play “old school football.” To do so, however, risks the loss of recruits in the short run, and losing success and momentum in the long term. As church leaders, change is all about us, but here’s what we often do in response to change. We say, “You have to have three backs in the backfield or you’re not scripturally in line.” And when you’ve played football one way all of your life—or done church one way–you can be resistant to any kind change. Change, however, whether in football or in leading a congregation, is a constant. Traditionally, Nick Saban has always had great defenses and a great running game. He could refuse to adapt and say, “At Alabama, we’re going to continue doing what tradition dictates.” But that’s not the path he has chosen. Last year Alabama had the highest scoring year ever because he said, “I want to be effective at the game.” So the question that we must always be asking is this: what are the non-negotiables of the game – the fundamentals, the 3 point field goal and the 10 yard first down – and what are the matters around us that must change and flex so that we remain relevant. This is the task of leaders – to navigate change wisely and live in tension with truth and change, to make the conversation a blessing and not a burden, to engage with our culture and do something creatively where God can work in our midst without us ever departing from biblical values. There is nothing wrong with change; your congregation is going to change. Rather than being paranoid, get ahead of change by keeping the main thing the main thing. Then let God work through creative leadership conversations to consider ways to reach those who don’t yet know Christ. Questions for reflection:
  1. What are the non-negotiables?
  2. What are the areas where we must flex and change to be an effective witness to our age?
  3. What assurances are needed in order to make these transitions?
  4. What are the risks involved in being unwilling to flex and adjust? How might our decisions today affect us ten years from now?
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