Tom and I attend Wesley United Methodist Church here on St. Simons Island. It is a large church with 1,000 members, three services, and a wonderful music program. In some ways it reminds us of Linworth United Methodist Church in Columbus. We thought we found church “homes away from home” but then there were changes in these churches.
Linworth got a new Senior Pastor and we didn’t like his preaching style. He told us, one of his first weeks, that he didn’t believe in sermon preparation. He thought the Holy Spirit should guide and shape the sermon on the fly. I think this is the height of laziness in a pastor. The Holy Spirit can guide and shape a sermon better with hours of prayer and preparation. We wouldn’t have minded so much if the sermons were good, but all his sermons sounded the same and he even told the same story several weeks in a row. We continued to attend because of the wonderful music, but then they suddenly fired the music director. Not only were the sermons awful, the music was awful as well. Due to these changes we started trying other churches.
Here on St. Simons, Wesley UMC is across the street from the monument so we can walk to church. The first Sunday we attended this year, we found out the music director had moved on to another church and the Associate Pastor was retiring (for a second time) and also moving. More changes! The second Sunday we attended, they introduced the new Music Director. He seems wonderfully qualified for the job and I’m sure he will continue the excellence of the music ministry at the church. Fortunately the Senior Pastor will stay the same (for now).
All of this made me think about changes in churches. When I retired from Wedgewood, some people left the church. I was sad about this, but I don’t think I really understood until I thought about my experiences with changes in churches. Being the Senior Pastor myself for 30 years, I always hated it when people left because I came. But it can be hard to worship when you can’t relate to a pastor. Singing a new song isn’t the same as as singing one that is old and familiar. Listening to a new preacher entails a period of adjustment and sometimes we are not able to adjust.
Sometimes the changes in churches mean that we need to make a church change. We can do this from inside the old church, working to deepen our relationships with others or improve a program that is important to us. We can also do it by changing churches and finding a place we can be part of a worshiping community.
I admire people who stick with one church through all the changes that happen in its life. They are listening to the call of God to be faithful to a place and a community even as it evolves and changes. But I must say I now understand people who change churches in order to continue to grow in their faith. We need to find places where we can plug in and be energized by the Holy Spirit speaking to us.
Changes in churches aren’t easy things to navigate. They take time, patience, and lots of prayer. It is important that we are a part of a church community, because we need fellowship and faith to weather the changes in our lives.