By Jimmie Sheffield

Reacting to change 

By Jimmie Sheffield

Change is all around us. I am sometimes like the person who said, “I don’t mind change as long as it doesn’t affect me.” However, we all know that change does affect us from time to time; so, I want to share in this article how I have dealt with change in my ministry life.  

In my early ministry life, change didn’t seem to occupy much of my thought time. Change did not seem to be as dramatic as it is today. Most churches I served were very predictable and conformed to the standards of the day. If you attended any Southern Baptist church in those days, they were focused on being a five-point church: Sunday School, Church Training, Music, Brotherhood and WMU. (Perhaps you may have never heard of Brotherhood, a precursor to Baptist Men.) 

In those early days as a staff member, I just tried to keep the programs going. What change came just seemed to be a very insignificant matter. 

In my later young years in the ministry, I began to wrestle with change. Or, to put it more bluntly, I began to resist change. Some of the changes being suggested did not make sense to me; so, I didn’t try to make adjustments in the way I tried to lead churches. I thought things were going ok. 

In my mid-years of ministry, I still had the inclination to resist change; but I began to realize that I had to be willing to make changes in order to help the church grow. A few of the changes I continued to resist involved music worship, new ways in training, and changing to a worship centered church rather than focusing on growth through Sunday School. 

In my later years of ministry, I began to realize it was change or cease to be effective. For example, technological changes were happening fast and furiously. I had to learn about computers, iPad, new phones, etc. Technology changes were difficult for me. I didn’t even know what a computer was until I was almost forty years old. Then it took me several years to know how they could be used in ministry. Change was hard! 

Also, in these years of ministry, change seemed to happen more rapidly. In the last few years, change has happened at warp speed. As a person in my sixties, seventies, and older, I found that exceedingly difficult. I read. I studied. I asked questions. I attended seminars. The more I tried to keep up with changes, the more inadequate I felt.  

Now, after sixty-five years in the ministry, I look back and see how I learned to deal with change. I hope the following suggestions will be of some help to you. As I have dealt with change, I have discovered there are at least three ways to respond. They are as follows: 

  • You can ignore it. This is playing the “pretend” game. Just play like change doesn’t exist. If you do this, you don’t really have to worry about change affecting you 
  • You can deny or reject change. This is similar to ignoring change. In this case, you just say, “Well, it is not real. This projected change won’t happen. 
  • You can learn to deal with change. In order to do this, you must recognize that change is real, and changes will happen. If you accept this premise, you can more effectively learn to deal with change. 

Assuming that you accept change as inevitable and you want to embrace change that will help you to improve your ministry, the following might be helpful. 

First, I did my best to be a continuing learner. I never assumed I knew it all, in fact, I believed the opposite. I didn’t think I knew very much. Being a continuing learner required reading, furthering my education, and finding others who could help me. 

Second, I had to learn how to be flexible. Since I am a person who thinks linearly, this was hard for me. I wanted to do it the way I planned. As a result, I often became stubborn. This resulted in inflexibility. An attitude like this is not good for a person who really wants to deal with change. 

Third, learning to be discerning was particularly important. To be a discerning person, one needs wisdom. I am always praying James 1:5: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (NIV) 

Fourth, I learned to stay true to Scripture. Some changes that are taking place in churches today are not scriptural. I found myself studying the Bible more so that I could determine if a change was true to God’s Word. I placed this last not because it is not important; but because it is most important. 

Change is happening and will continue to happen. How are you going to deal with all the changes coming at you so fast? Hopefully, you might find something helpful in my journey dealing with change.  

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