Sometimes all it takes is one voice to point out the obvious.
And sometimes, all one has to do is point out the obvious, and great change can take place.
We’ve all heard the stories about churches and communities who are on autopilot in some areas, operating that way because it’s always been that way. Every organization has a few of these areas, and some have many more. Plenty of people get paid plenty of money to be consultants, pointing out those areas and offering up ways to be more efficient and effective.
Sometimes change comes slowly, and some organizations take an inordinate amount of time to move. Some churches appear to move as quickly as snails do, polling every person every week, and tabling the decision again and again, hoping a little more data will make things clear. Other times, communities move very quickly, even rashly, and a rush of activity and change result, bringing positive and negative consequences.
The causes behind these dynamics are complex, and understanding them takes wisdom, experience, and reflection. I don’t pretend to be an expert, but one thing I’ve realized is that it never hurts to point out the obvious. I am in the first weeks of a new call, and find my ignorance to be a huge gift. Asking the obvious question, or making the obvious observation has already taught me a great deal about this community, as well as helped them articulate who they are and why they do what they do.
Preachers are in a unique position to point out the obvious, and even if we don’t have “the answer” to a given situation, we have the privilege of being able to ask the question in the presence of the community, and invite them into mutual discernment about it. It’s true that positive change is often slow in coming. On the other hand, it could be right around the corner, and is simply waiting for someone to point out the obvious.
In my previous call, I had a long commute, and tried to avoid driving in rush-hour traffic if at all possible. The freeway itself was clogged at those times of day, but often the worst part of the trip was waiting on the metered on-ramp to get on the freeway. On Wednesday evening of my last week at that church, I left at exactly the wrong time, and found myself sitting on the on-ramp, waiting for the meters. As I was emotionally distracted, I didn’t realize right away that something was wrong, but eventually I noticed that no one was moving. Rather than changing to green periodically to let cars through, the lights in front of us were constantly red. And no one was doing anything about it.
I sat there, evaluating my options, and my emotions ranged from irritation to amusement. I wondered how long we would all sit there, if someone was working to fix the problem, or if anyone actually knew there was a problem. I wondered what the cars in the front were thinking, and when (or if) they would eventually decide to move. Finally, in my rearview mirror, I saw a man in a t-shirt and shorts jump out of his Jetta and run up to the front of the line. I have no idea what he said, but I assume it was along the lines of, “Go! The lights are not going to change!”
Immediately, the line of cars started moving again, and as he ran back to his car, everyone honked their horns in appreciation of the courageous man who stated the obvious and effected great change. Sometimes that’s all it takes.