“You Only Have to Die”

Leading transformation is hard work. And, according to James Harnish, the cost is great!

Several years ago, we read You Only Have to Die in a Doctor of Ministry class at Asbury Theological Seminary. Harnish is pastor of Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa, Florida.

The book is written on the premise, “Hope is born when we are willing to die for the right things” (11). Harnish argues, “The only way that leads to life is the way that leads through death” (11).

Changing the world and transforming our communities starts with personal, heart transformation, and commitment.

The key to becoming a Spirit-energized, people-loving, life-giving, community-transforming congregation is really very simple. All you have to do is be willing to die. (21)

The cost is high because there’s always resistance to change. Harnish states, “Transformation is always difficult. Change always brings stress. The way that leads to life is always hard” (45).

Transformational leaders must be courageous. And they must clearly, and continually, cast vision.

Harnish points out, “As long as a congregation’s mission is vague or undefined, people can get along pretty well by pretending that the church is what they believe it to be” (47). He goes on to note, however, when you begin to cast the vision for God’s mission, it forces people to choose whether or not to support the vision.

Harnish writes a chapter on the importance of prayer in the process of transformation. He asserts, “The primary means by which God removes the heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh is disciplined, listening, obedient prayer” (91).

Harnish describes prayer in the transformational process …

Prayer is the process by which we bring our lives, our ministry, and our mission into proper relationship with the redemptive purpose of God revealed in Jesus Christ so that our life together becomes a translucent center of loving power for the transformation of the world. (98)

Because leading change and transformation is hard work, it requires persistent prayer. Harnish contends, “Prayer that makes a difference hangs on, holds on, and refuses to give in until God’s kingdom has come and God’s will has been done” (101).

Leading change is hard. It’s not for the faint of heart. Harnish suggests, “The critical question in most mainline, long-established churches is how willing we are to change our methods in order to fulfill our mission” (130).

Jesus said, “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you” (John 20.21). We are followers of Jesus Christ, sent to change the world! Are we willing to lay down our lives and pay the price in order to transform churches that will, in turn, transform our communities?

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