Thursday, January 5, 2012

An appetite for change?

I have a confession to make. I am a closet fan of Donna Leon. I just can't get enough of her Guido Brunetti detective stories, set in Venice. He's smooth, laid-back, gets on well with his kids and spends most of his time wandering round the most beautiful city on earth. Ah well.... 

Occasionally I get hairs on the back of the neck moments when I am following his exploits. It can happen when all the pieces fall into place and he realises 'who dunnit', or when he describes the sun setting over the CanaƂasso. But one of these moments came unexpectedly when I was reading The Girl of His Dreams  in front of a log fire last week. Brunetti is discussing the perilous moral state of Italian society and lamenting the fact that there is no appetite for change. He turns to a colleague and says:

If we want things to stay as they are, then things will have to appear to change. 

In a rare moment of cynicism Guido reminded me of my years in the BBC. I was there long enough to see DGs and senior managers come and go, all with their own new policies which were going to transform the way we made programmes. At first it was a mystery to me why few of these polices ever seemed to make much difference. Then I got it. Wily staff, keen to keep things as they were, gave the appearance that things were changing, when in reality they weren't. Clever eh?

So why the hairs on the back of the neck moment?

I suddenly thought, 'I hope that's not the case in the UK church'. I have spent the last six years or so persuading dioceses and districts, synods and congregations, leadership teams and individuals to change the way they look at and approach mission. In the main the response has been very encouraging. Specialists in contextual mission and fresh expressions have been appointed, hundreds of fresh expressions have been established and slowly stories of significant change, in individuals and communities are filtering through. From time to time though something happens (a pioneer moves on and isn't replaced, a fresh expression of church folds and no attempt is made to rescue it, a budget is cut and mission seems to miss out...), when the rhetoric and the reality fail to match, and there is a distinct gravitational pull back to doing church 'as we have always done it'.

Tell me, that like Brunetti, I am being cynical to think that some in the church, realising that Fresh Expressions is having an impact and a period of popularity, go along with the movement but encourage only the appearance of change. Tell me I am wrong to think that at the same time, they would rather things stayed as they are, they avoid the radical questions, the necessary, dramatic shift in policy, and the fundamental change of mind-set needed if we are to reach those well of the church's radar. A contrary principle is clear and not a bad motto for a new year:

If we want things to be different, then things really are going to have to change - even in the church.

13 comments:

  1. Depends what you mean by Church; national, diocese, team or parish and what you mean by change; full on revolution, evolution or rearranging the deck chairs on the titanic type change :)

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  2. Interesting Norman that others might be thinking the same. Is rearrangement the same as change?

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  3. i'd say yes, but people (and i include myself), will have limits to what they perceive as change for good, change for the sake of change, and change for ill... and thats a tricky one to navigate...

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  4. I sometimes I think we presume there is more of an appetite than there really is...particularly at grass roots level. Unfortunately, pastoral care is always our default position and concern for church members who don't want change often trumps concern for the thousands of not yet Christian who so desperately need the church to change.

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  5. Even for those who do have the appetite for change there are different reasons for wanting change and different directions they may want to go in. My instinct is that the institution generally has the appetite for change where change is about changing schemes in order to promote its survival - nb. Jack Mezirow's book "transformative dimensions of adult learning" has some very interesting things to say about the difference between transforming our meaning schemes (strategies) and meaning perspectives (understandings) - my gut feeling is that we see a lot more of the former than the latter!

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  6. Appetite or not, and whether we like it or not, church is changing. Has changed substantially in the last 20 years or so. Older, fewer children, etc etc ... The real question is whether we are prepared to be the intentional agents of change driven by kingdom values, or just let whatever changes happen (and they will) while we sit like rabbits in headlights.

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  7. is there an appetite for change in the church? It doesn't matter. What happens in the church is becoming less and less relevant or even important; it's what the people of the church do outside of "the church" (in real life [one could even say real Church]) that matters.

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  8. Change can be about choice in a proactive sense, but a lot of the time change is forced as people have to react to something or someone that impacts on them and is different. Bereavement is surely partly about having to respond to a loss - a change that happens even if we don't want it too. Asking if we have an appetite for death would seem a weird question to ask, and most would say no because it is painful. Healthy grief (being open to change) is about facing the reality that change is happening and has happened, learning to live with the loss, not in denial, but in an enabling sense that helps us to move on as we adapt and refocus lives. Resurrection and the hope that it proclaims is at the heart of our faith. Resurrection is change!

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  9. There was a man once who came to Change the World....he did...he then gave us a commission to continue his work...are we doing it? Or are we managing the status quo in the hope that he'll be happy when he returns....the parable of the servant who buried his money in the earth springs to mind!!

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  10. I am a part of church and I have an appetite for God to change me... If all church members are hungry for God to mould them and use them, continually growing in that, then inevitably when we join together, the wider church will change. If your church is static, then perhaps the question is are YOU hungry to be changed? And Are you willing for God to change YOU..?

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  11. I guess many people, in and out of church, are weary from the constant pace of change all around us in life, work, family, culture, and so the familiarity of tradition can be a real place to sink into and find peace and relief from the stress elsewhere too.

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  12. ‎Norman a good blog - actually read a few posts and like the questions you raise;o) i fear you are right - the church and many of it's members just want everything to stay as it is and they simply embrace a bit of change in the hope that it will enable things to go on exactly as they are. this is why so many are frustrated with OPM deployment and many hear phrases like 'you need to do a normal curacy because in the long run you'll be running a normal parish not a fresh expression' it's why training for OPM's is all the normal stuff then a bit on top. it's why many say 'what will be the next thing after fresh expressions?' all these tell that many think fresh expressions is a fad that will soon be over. however others have changed their thinking and have really sought change - the reality i suspect is that the apparent success of fresh expressions masks the real success which is much less - but it still success and worth it. it is also why i think it important to keep pointing back to the Mission-Shaped theology and allowing it to challenge those who think they can do fresh expressions light - the lets change what it looks like but not really do any cross-cultural mission approach. in the end the church has survived not by doing the same thing but by changing - it will do so again - the question is how much of the church will survive.

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  13. Peter commented. I am not much given to comment - as an untrained person. However, the less we have to lose by way of 'power' or 'influence' the greater the appetite for change. Antagonism and opposition will always be from those people and institutions with influence to lose. My feeling is that Guido in Donna Leon's book is right and the Church as an institution will not change willingly, while individuals, responding to the Holy Spirit and promptings of God, will change people and places, slowly. Change in 'church' begins with change in us?

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