Here I go recommending another book that doesn’t have “church” or “Jesus” in the title. I think recent church history shows us swinging wildly between two poles: on one side acting like we are businesses and adopting business practices to run our churches and on the other distancing ourselves from anything at all secular. There is a fine balance in being in the world and not of the world. The late Albert Outler coined the term “Plundering the Egyptians” referencing the book of Exodus to make the talk about “the freedom that Christians have (by divine allowance) to explore, appraise, and appropriate all the insights and resources of any and all secular culture.” (Albert Outler, “Plundering the Egyptians” in, Evangelism & Theology in the Wesleyan Spirit, Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 1996, 75-88) I like plundering the Egyptians.
I just finished Switch, How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. Heath and Heath wrote another one of my favorite books, Made to Stick. (You can read a quick review of that on my old blog here: http://willatgrace.blogspot.com/search?q=made+to+stick) I think Switch is a must read for pastors. This is especially true for pastors who find themselves in the role of change agents, trying to help their church or organization grow and change in ways the help it to more effectively serve its mission. But it also true for pastors in any setting because, as this book helped me remember, all pastors are change agents. (This book didn’t talk about pastors at all but it still reminded me.) As pastors, we are involved in helping people to change. We help people lead to a radical change in life that comes with a relationship with Christ (justification). And we help people go through a lifelong metamorphosis of recreation in the image and likeness of Christ (sanctification.) It is God that makes this happen, individuals who submit themselves to it and pastors (and other ministers) who help convince people to enter into this process and facilitate their journey. In other words, part of the work of the church is to convince people to make a change and then help them to make a change.
Sometimes this involves systemic work in changing systems and structures and sometimes it is about the one-on-one work of individual discipleship. Switch helps us to see why such change is hard and how we can make is easier. Back under the heading of “plundering the Egyptians” deciding to follow Christ has some similarities to deciding to lose weight or eat better or keep your house neat. The similarities quickly break down but the initial steps of inspiration and motivation look a lot alike.
What breaks my heart the most as a pastor is that I truly believe that when people stand up front and profess their faith and take vows of membership they really mean it. They really want to change their focus from whatever led and motivated them in the past to following God. However, so many of them lose their way. And I think we can help them and I think the Heath brothers have some very simple ideas that can assist us. Switch made me consider exactly how much change we are throwing at people right up front when we ask them to become followers of Jesus. We expect them to change a lot of things (show up on Sunday, come to a class on Wednesday, start giving away some of your income, watch your language) and changing a lot of things takes self-control and “self-control is an exhaustible resource.” (p. 10) People do want to change and they are not lazy, nor do they lack discipline, but sometimes we are expecting them to do too much at once.
The authors offer some clear ways to think about approaching change. They use the analogy of psychologist Jonathan Haidt to explain that our brains have two sides, an emotional side and a rational side: an elephant and a rider. (p. 7) It may sound a bit crass to my church colleagues but the authors show us that it about directing the rider, motivating the elephant and shaping the path.
This is a fun and insightful book. I love the Heath brothers. Even if you never use anything in this book it is fun to read and you might learn a little something about yourself and what motivates you.