Yesterday I received my copy of the March/April 2007 issue of Interpreter Magazine (a publication of the United Methodist Church) in the mail. The cover story caught my attention: "Changing Communities, Changing Churches."

There are some great stories about United Methodist churches that, faced with the challenge of changing communities, chose to make the changes that are necessary to be effective in ministry in the 21st century.

I love Bishop John R. Schol’s comments about "healthy disruption":

Church people tend to shy away from disruption.

"We want everybody in the church to be happy," a church member once said to me. This is shocking, because Jesus was one of the most disruptive people who ever lived. He turned the religious world upside down. His disruption caused Him to wind up on a cross. We fail to make the connection between healthy disruption and the life of Jesus.

Yes! That reminds me of a message I shared last year on the difference between peacekeepers and peacemakers. Peacekeepers want to make everyone happy. But peacemakers, who know "healthy disruption" is required, want to make everyone healthy!

A sobering statement from the feature article …

Some congregations embrace change as an exciting challenge; others wish it would just go away. Behind it all stands one big question: Will churches reach out to new neighbors, or will they shrink and die?

"The potential exists for a large number of church closings in the coming years," says the Rev. Sam Dixon, who leads the evangelization and church growth staff of the General Board of Global Ministries.

This happens when an aging church is unable to replenish its rolls with newcomers, perhaps out of fear of a changing neighborhood, and its finances and hopes decline, Dixon says. In many instances, clergy members of past generations were trained for pastoral care, focusing on their flocks, rather than as outward-looking evangelists and community organizers.

It’s our choice. We can view the need for change as something to be avoided, or we can view it as an opportunity and challenge to be excited about. Not only must churches change the way they do church, pastors also must change the way they lead. Pastors who minister primarily to members must learn to lead and equip  their churches to do ministry in the world.

There are some great stories of United Methodist churches that chose to change in this edition of Interpreter. I encourage you to check them out. The reality is, we are never immune to the need for change. We either change or we die!

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