Healthy Leadership Strategies Through Change Webinar
Change, both welcome and unwelcome, affects each of us. Leadership must be able to lead through the ambiguity of knowing when to accommodate change while also being cautious of some change. In this webinar, Kevin Ryan helps us consider the effect which change can have on our congregations, encouraging us to do the personal work as well as the corporate work of managing change so that we can nurture our congregations with wisdom and grace. Learn more as you watch our webinar recording.
Greetings. It’s excellent to be with you all. Brother Kevin, it’s an honor to have this conversation and I’m looking forward to it, really. I think this topic is an excellent topic by the participation that we’re finding online. We know that it is one that’s on the hearts of many, and so we’re gonna look at change. I’m gonna set up the topic here tonight with some objectives.
So our objectives there on the left side of the screen. Briefly talk about the existence of change. What is it? And this is intended just to set the foundation of what it is we’re talking about even though I think we all know, but that will just stir our minds to that end. The nature of change. How does change work? Looking into that particular element and then moving on to the effect of change. How does it affect people? Change is affecting people and I think that’s largely why we’re interested in the topic as individuals at leadership role. And then finally, the management of change. How do we lead through change in looking at two subpoints of that as the personal work and also corporate work as leaders.
And I would also like to say that we’re gonna probably spend increasing time on each one. So spending some brief time on the first ones and hopefully dedicating more time to the latter one. So, just so everybody’s clear a little bit about our roles, I will lead the conversation, looking to Brother Kevin to provide some thoughts and I will also keep an eye on the clock because we’ve had some wonderful questions submitted. And Brother Kevin, you’ve seen those questions and they are largely in that last bucket and so we wanna honor that. We know that individuals are coming on with a heart towards that, but there is some setup that we wish to do.
I also might say to the questions that have been offered, which is just excellent questions being offered, I’m gonna pull out two subsets of questions that we’re not going to address tonight. And simply for clarity’s sake, so our expectations are managed. They were excellent questions and they fit very much in this presentation, but it’s too much for us.
One is change within minister teams. Okay. Excellent questions about transitioning and that type of thing. Not going to be necessarily the center of what we address here today, but a mental note to our team that perhaps that would be an excellent webinar to have. And the second one would be discerning good change and whether it’s good or bad and whether it should be or should not be undertaken.
This will be touched on at some level, but is not going to be a deep dive into discerning change. But rather when change is upon us, how do we deal with it? So that might gauge a little bit or help guide a little bit of what we might hear tonight. So, Brother Kevin, I had to put this picture on here, right? Just to give a nod to that New England notoriety of the leaves that are changing and you’ve encouraged me to come out to the East Coast when that happens. But I think this is really an excellent picture of change because who doesn’t love this scene and who is not who, you know, we love the changing of the leaves yet it heralds a change that maybe we’re not so excited about. Right. And that’s wintertime. And so even with change, we have mixed emotions, and I think that’s gonna come out tonight too. About what change and how we handle change and view change.
To give our listeners a little bit of maybe understanding of how these webinars come about. I have constructed the slide deck here, but it’s happened by way of conversation. Brother Arlan and I sat down via Zoom with Brother Kevin and just walked through this topic and listened to his heart. And this slide deck comes out of that. So I will be preempting some questions to Brother Kevin, and I’m gonna do that here with the next slide which is beautiful scene of a shepherd. Brother Kevin, you like to use some illustrations to make, I think, an important point about change. And I would like you to share your three stories of shepherds to do that tonight.
Yeah. Thanks brother, Matt, I appreciate that. I at times consider myself a bit of a storyteller, so just bear with me for maybe five minutes as an introduction here. But before I tell this story, I’d like to set the reference for my discussion or at least this account, which is St. John 10. The second verse, which reminds us, these are the words of the Lord, of course, but he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. And when we consider our service, all of us here, and together, when we consider our service to the church, to the Lord’s souls that He has purchased, we need to consider what are the changes that are happening in our lives, our society, and then in our corporate worship.
I also think it’s important that we remember that this verse says, he then entereth in by the door, the shepherd of the sheep. So the charge is not only to the elder or the ordained deacon or the minister. It really is a charge to anyone who’s converted, who’s been purchased through Christ’s blood, that we have a responsibility for each other’s spiritual welfare and our spiritual health.
So a little parable, about three shepherds, all of whom inherited a healthy flock of sheep. The first shepherd was very concerned for his sheep and very attentive to his pasture. He cared about his flock, and he made sure that it was protected with fences and gates that were strong and sturdy. The shepherd was very cautious. He kept the sheep in the center of the pasture. He didn’t like it when the sheep went and stuck their noses through the fences into the neighboring fields to try out the forage that was beyond his own. Over time, however, the sheep overworked their home pasture and started to wear it out. It became worn and the variety of grasses actually weakened, and because of this, the sheep became restless and ill, and they pressed their noses through the fence even more to reach their neighboring fields.
The shepherd himself became anxious and made his fences stronger. He locked the gates tighter and patrolled the sheep even more often to keep them from wandering over into that neighboring pasture. Over time, however, his flock became lethargic, the birth rate of twins and triplets fell, and many of them stood still, and they just ate from the same spot in their home pasture and hardly moved around. This was not providing good nutrition however, and illness started to spread through the flock.
The second shepherd, he was a progressive herdsman. He too cared for the sheep and was very interested in what good grasses and varieties he might actually find in the neighboring pasture. He kept them moving around and he fed them with variety. He actually wasn’t all that concerned when the sheep started to push through the fence and stick their heads over. And in fact, he was somewhat positive about it because he started to think this might be a sign that they were in need of some new grasses to feed on. So when he saw this starting to happen, he decided to give them a taste of that neighboring grass, and he left the gate open a little so the sheep might have a chance to try it out.
He himself actually went out into the neighboring field to look around and the sheep followed him through the gate. And as they were doing that, they did so with a spring in their step, they were excited. They started moving around to try out all that new fresh grass, and at first they looked happy, healthy with all that new food. But some of that grass was so rich and it was so new that those sheep couldn’t digest it well. And in time they started to bloat.
In fact, they were suffocating on all that new forage and were so excited about it however, they didn’t even hear their shepherd’s voice calling them back into the home pasture when he realized that they had gone too far and spread out too wide in all those new fields. It was no longer safe. They themselves could not discern the change in their own health. So they became so scattered in their excitement that that shepherd couldn’t collect them soon enough to prevent some of them from becoming ill. And others lost in the tall weeds of that meadow.
The third shepherd. He was a cautious man, but he was also aware and he was aware of good things that might be available outside of his own fields. And he knew in time and through time that his sheep would need to move into some new pasture. But he also knew that they could not do that too quickly. They still needed to eat from their home pasture, which was a safe and healthy place while they were learning to digest new food from the neighboring fields. Before the sheep started getting too anxious and pushing too much through the fences, and too often, the shepherd went and looked over the neighboring pasture.
He would sometimes bring back some of the grass from that pasture to let them try it out. Not a lot, but enough. He used his time before his own field became too barren to quietly extend some of his own home pasture with new fences into that neighboring meadow so he could bring the sheep close, keep the sheep close while introducing the change in forage from the best of the surrounding land. He brought them out to the new grasses, but also back into the home ground. Rotating new with old his caution and his awareness, and not trampling the home pasture and not opening the gates so wide the flock gorge themselves was a successful strategy to introduce the change while valuing the familiar. And in doing this, that third shepherd kept the flock together, the sheep healthy and the pasture was fresh.
I’m no expert. I’ve had a number of years of experience and in this little parable, I could see myself in each one of these situations at times. And so I think as we enter in the discussion, it’s good to remember that in any of our responsibilities and shepherding the flock, we are going to make mistakes at times and we are going to do things well at times, and we may fit the role of either of these three shepherds at various points. So Matt, that’s just a little intro, at least my positing if I can say it that way.
It speaks wonderfully, it speaks wonderfully to the tension that I think all the participants feel in this moment of, this tension between change that we know is good for the flock and yet change that we know would be detrimental. And navigating that and managing just as a third shepherd did is inspiring. So I really appreciate that. And that does set up beautifully what it is we’re talking about. So as we talk about the existence of change, where is it? Well, it’s in a lot of places and far more than these mentioned.
Certainly the bottom right, technology, is booming and it’s hard to keep up with the change in that regard. Relationships are changing with losses and people in and out of life. Relationships are changing. Society is changing in many ways. Ideologies are changing. Our ideas or even opinions on certain matters change through life. And then the church, certainly that’s the catalyst or the overlap of our time here as we think about leaders in churches. Certainly, there’s change that pertains to that as well. So, what further context would you wanna provide, Brother Kevin, as you frame up tonight’s topic, thinking about change and where it’s at in the day and age that we live?
Well, a couple thoughts. First of all, it just happened. I spent last Thursday and Friday last week in St. Petersburg, Florida, professionally with a group of executives from about eight companies in about six different industries. And you could ask, you could have the same conversation with them, right? The pace of the change in their industries is too much. Young people coming into the workforce, they don’t know how to work with them. They just don’t understand them.
Technology is causing them to have people that they are managing from India, the Philippines, Eastern and Western Europe, and hardly even have opportunity to see those people any longer because they can’t travel. Since Covid, nobody’s really in an office and they’re just lamenting all of this technology has a role. The relationships that they had even three years ago, let alone a decade ago, are significantly different.
And so we think somehow, or we may think, I shouldn’t really say how everybody on this webinar thinks, but it could be easy for us to think that there’s something unique about all of this to us. And, it’s not, it’s not unique. Our church is experiencing the disruption from changes in all of those things on that slide. But so is society. The other thing I would offer, technology is a catalyst for change. No question about it. People will say, well, a pace of change is too fast.
Yes, that is a fact. It is too fast. We are probably not, we know we are not conditioned to multitask, but we all try to do it one way or another. We weren’t even created to do that. So technology is the catalyst, but it’s not the problem. We are still the problem. What we are doing, our reaction to it all, that’s what’s causing the problems.
Whether that’s becoming short fused with our own friends, family, congregants, spouse, or it’s not technology’s fault. We cannot blame it because if we blame it, we’re gonna start looking to it for the solution. And that’s not where the solution lies. It lies obviously first with our Lord, with our faith. But it lies in a lot of ways within each other.
The last point I would really like to make on this slide, Brother Matt, is on the relationships. And I guess if I were to say anything tonight, I would want someone to walk away remembering it, I guess, it would be this, that, especially within the brotherhood, and I mean that both brothers and sisters and friends, faithful friends of the church, children, the person, whether that’s your elder, a minister, brother and sister, or a teenage kid in Sunday School, the person who thinks differently than I do or adapts or adopts change differently than I do new things differently than I do. That person is not the enemy. They are not the enemy, and we don’t have to look too far.
Anywhere in the world today, but certainly in our own society to see the maliciousness, the polarization, the disruption to good. We don’t wanna follow that path. We wanna find ways to adopt and adapt to what’s happening in our church, in our families, that keep our relationships and keep our flocks and ourselves healthy. Those would be the thoughts I have on this slide, Matt.
Really appreciate that. And, I appreciate the normalization you’ve brought to this topic. I think that times we can think that, oh, things are out of control. But, all of time has known change. I can only imagine the printing press to inaugurate change, like at a rate that they had never seen before. And so we find ourselves, yes, in a recent era, but not necessarily new.
No, I don’t think it was new. If you think from the Hundred Years War to the persecution that happened in about 50 AD to the scattering of believers from Jerusalem all throughout the Mediterranean to World War II. And probably some of our parents grandparents went off to war with not being heard from. Mail was slow. But the rate of it all in today’s society, the ubiquity and the unending cycle of it being all night, all day. That’s probably somewhat new. So I think we’ve gotta acknowledge it. It’s not gonna change either, for sure.
Well, let’s look then at the nature of change and how does it work? You know, we make decisions for or against things based on a perceived loss or gain. If I’m going to change a job or if I’m going to change a house, you know, what are the losses, what are the gains? What are the stresses that’s putting that change before me? Am I, how am I responding to stress? So, I’ve got a camera lens here, Brother Kevin, let’s go ahead and look at a real life example. You know, in the last three years, video cameras, for example, have become common in our sanctuaries. Let’s use this issue as a case study. You’ve been in elder discussions for a long time, and so I’m sure you’ve had conversations around video cameras. So what can you tell us about the nature of change? And let’s use this as an example.
Yeah, thanks. It’s a good one. So I believe I’m accurate in this, but someone could check it out. It goes, there’s a confidential record of all elder meetings. The very first time that the Elder Body discussed using a video presentation of the General Conference was in 1987. I was a minister. The conference that year was actually in Rockville, and one of the thoughts was, now there was no internet in 1987, so it would’ve been a closed circuit TV production to a number of congregations from Connecticut to the Midwest so that people could congregate at the Midwest in various places and see the General Conference while they heard it.
That was a big stretch for church leadership. Now we can, and I can do it. We can look back at that and laugh. Almost chuckle. It was discussed again when things like the internet came into being in the mid to late nineties, or at least the technology would’ve allowed even more, not just dial in service for services.
And it was a very difficult thing for church leadership to say, is there a great need here? This would be disruptive. How do we manage it? Who manages it? How much will this really impact who we are as preachers? There was good, reasonable, sound questions, and then ultimately a decision not to pursue it at that time, but when Covid hit, we did it with lightning speed, didn’t we?
So, and well done. Right? And now I don’t know about every congregation, most congregations I’m aware of have said, you know what? We had to do it. The disruption was not so disturbing. It wasn’t disturbing at all. There was some good reason and benefit for it, and we’ve kept that even as we’ve been able to reassemble together, at least I would venture most of us have.
So, you know, what prompts it when it gets adopted sometimes how can be circumstantial and frankly, I would’ve been open to it in the 1990s, personally, I would’ve been open to it, but it would’ve been pretty ridiculous on my part to push my way through, especially as a new elder at the time, and not really understanding all things. So I was patient. I waited, I asked the question, and I think the right decision was made. In time, the need outweighed the caution, and we were able to move quickly.
I think it’s an excellent example of losses and gains, perceived losses and gains as well as stresses. Covid provided a stress that somewhat trumped the other stresses, right? And, launched change. So this is simply the, you know, how does change work? And thinking through the lens of losses and gains and realizing that everybody has experienced either a loss or a gain, which leads us now really to the effect that has on people. Now, we’re getting closer to that shepherd heart, right? As we help people.
I’ve got a number of bullets there, not really needing to go through each one, Brother Kevin, but just to note them, you know, change is comfort to one person, yet discomfort to another. Change is control to one and loss of control to another. It’s gain to one and loss to another. Right? And so we have these this is to speak to how it affects people.
So let’s go back to that very example. Someone said to me, I’m not sure it’s good that we’ve kept video. Does that make it easier to stay home? Does that make it easier not to attend church in various times? And, the answer to that question is, yeah, probably does. So nothing is so binary that it is either completely good or completely bad. We must use these things with wisdom. We must have some measure of trust in people that if I’m using the opportunity to use an online access to worship the Lord and forego the ability to be in congregate with other believers, then Zoom isn’t the problem there either is it? Right there, is something else happening?
So I think we need to assess these things as objectively as we can and also recognize, we understand that some of the brothers and sisters in our churches, they may live with the change or they may struggle with the pace of the changes that are happening. And we just can’t discount that either. We don’t have the right to just run over that either when it’s reasonable and respectful. Stress and conflict and change, they travel together, right? They go together. Those things. I’m sorry, I interrupted you.
No, I appreciate that. And what I hear though, even as the heart of a leader has an awareness about people and how they’re going to react to that in all of these nuanced ways. And that would go into one’s thinking about how do I lead this group? Knowing that some are comforted by this change and others have discomfort, some feel this is a gain, others feel this is a loss. Some are optimistic about this and some are gonna have a lot of fear. That is a part of our knowledge and our understanding of how people are gonna be affected.
Can I give you another example as you move to the next slide in this? I know we talked about it, you may have it prompted or for me in another, but 23 years ago, the Elder Body approved yet another revision of our Zion’s Harp hymnal. It was undertaken by a group of brothers, might have been some sisters, but I think some brothers involved from across the congregations.
They were exceptionally cautious. They took a lot of time. They had the expertise. They understood, knew music. I was privileged to be part of the elder representative of the Elder Body that worked with them. Not, certainly not because I sing well or understand music, but I’m not sure why, but somehow I was asked to be part of that.
It was a fascinating experience. To this day, once in a while, someone will say to me, I miss the old melody. And, maybe there’s a song too that I missed the old melody. But I think if we really look at this, we sing out of more hymns today in that hymnal than we did prior to that revision. Was that revision perfect? Was it the end all? Absolutely not. But it was done with respect, with caution, with the guidance of church leadership, with brothers who understood, and sisters, I’m sure, who understood music and had the expertise. And the end result has been, it’s no longer an item of controversy. Many of us probably have forgotten we went through a major revision of that hymnal 23 years ago. It’s very relevant. I think most of you are surely aware the Elder Body is, or in the process, is approving a new hymnal to be considered for use in our worship. The same level I see. And frankly, at times within myself, I can sense that level of anxiety about that.
The introduction of change, the introduction of new hymns, what are they gonna be like? And yet my past experience has tempered my current behavior. And I do think that that’s a strategy. I can go back to the title of our talk. Let’s look back. We can learn a lot from things that we went through in the past. And there may be opportunity to talk somewhere. I’m fearful I’m talking too much, Matt.
No, that’s excellent. And actually it’s a wonderful transition as we really talk about management, cuz you really spoke there about knowing yourself. And having had experiences and knowing yourself, and that’s really as we think about management of change and how do we lead through it. In our conversations, Brother Kevin, you placed a large emphasis on knowing yourself. I’d like you to expand on that. These are all prompts that you had supplied. Speak to any of these prompts and why they’re important to know yourself and as a leader, what effect does that have on us and how is that helpful in managing change?
Yeah, I appreciate that. I think we must know what event or what environment or what specific item of change that is confronting our church pushes us naturally to be either the first shepherd who wants to batten down the hatches or the second shepherd that just wants to say, hey, this is good. Let’s just go, let’s open this gate. Let’s let these sheep have this, and probably all of us want to be. But it takes a lot of knowing what’s really motivating me in the moment in order for me to be that effective third shepherd in my care for the sheep.
I can remember there was a time I was visiting with another elder brother and we were working through our whole discussion around reinstatement and restoration and how does the work of the Lord in a believer’s life that’s run into difficulty and found themselves in the tall grass or the thorns and the briars and needed to have someone go out and rescue them. So how do we teach that? How do we think about that? And I remember visiting with a brother and I was really focused on my relationship with the Lord and how I viewed that, and so was he.
And all of a sudden I realized that for me and my personality, thinking about Jesus as that Advocate at the right hand of God making His case for me in the times where you can call ’em sins, transgression, error, mistakes you use whatever word you want, but we mean kind of the same thing, don’t we? And that other brother in his personal relationship with the Lord, it moved him to think of the Savior hanging on the cross, suspended between heaven and earth. And, you know, we both were experiencing the good. We both were experiencing. So only till I come to the point where I really could hear that brother, but I really understand his point.
But I really understand why he was saying what he was saying and why he was viewing the discussion the way he was viewing. And when I understood myself and I assumed good intent in my brother, only then really could I really grasp, you know, only it’s kind of, that’s the opening to wisdom, right? Because if I’m just forcefully saying what I think all I’m doing at that point is repeating what I already know. I’m not learning anything new, you know? And look, in my 30 some years as an elder, I could give you a long list of brothers. I could give you a long list of sisters who are important to me, who think differently than me, and who can say to me, I think you’re wrong. I think you need to see yourself. And I can listen to them. There’s some, I can’t, I’ll be honest with you there, you know? But we all need people in our life that can do that. And they need to be people who think differently than we think. And they need to be people who have experiences different than my own.
And then the last point just really speaks again to assuming good intent. If I am mistrustful of leadership of my co-labor, whether that’s the brothers sitting next to me on the pulpit, or whether that is the brothers in the pulpit and the congregation, well, we don’t have a congregation 10 miles down the road, but those of you along Route 24, you know, you can, you can get my point. So, and then how willing am I to adjust as time goes on, that there’s been a lot of adjustment and good adjustment in the Apostolic Christian Church. From the willingness to immigrate to a new country, to the willingness to accept the use of a new language for the benefit of young people.
The willingness in the 1930s to allow young brothers to shave their beards even though there was a real disruption to a willingness now in our time to leave that the growing of a beard to personal discretion. And we’ve gone through both avenues of those. So there’s a lot of examples that we have in our history that apply to some of the very things that are confronting us today. And no one should run roughshod into change, and no one should lock down the gates so tight for a personal preference of change that we’re not able to hear each other anymore.
You know, the third parable that you shared there, at the outset on that third shepherd was different than the first two because he was so thoughtful about managing that change and just determining when it should happen, the pace for which it would happen. And, there was an openness and a knowing of one’s self. And I see some of these prompts to be helpful to that end, that I might need help seeing blind spots, for example. I might need help seeing things differently. Maybe I am either for change or resistant to change because of my personality more than my Bible knowledge.
I’ll just give you a simple example. I have realized, that I bought an old house, Brother Kevin. I buy an old house. I like old things. I like the old ways. And this came to me at one point in discussion of change and those types of things. And I realized, oh, I have a personality who doesn’t like change. So, and that’s helpful for me to know because that’s not necessarily a righteousness that I like antiques, but it runs in myself and in my thinking. And so I think these questions do a nice job of helping me do due diligence and all of us do due diligence in thinking carefully so that we can be that third shepherd as you laid out.
I would like to, can I be very open with just one thought I would like to share? And again, this comes from 30 plus years in the eldership, and it is a reflection of the environment today that is very different than it was certainly when I was first ordained. And there are other brothers, maybe some on this call that are my peers, so I hope I don’t in any way sound as if I’m some sort of authority in any way, but I would really that the second to the last bullet point here, I would just really encourage all of us on this call and in any way that anybody on this call can help the congregation.
We are living in a time where the independent spirit in America has grown exponentially from it was in the 1990s. Individualism, personal conviction. Some of that’s good. I’m not saying it isn’t, but we’re not so unwise that we wouldn’t say that some of it is not healthy. And one of the things I see, at least as I look at some of our newer elders, I could, I guess I can use the word younger. I’m 66, so some of our younger elders, I’m really concerned they’re being churned up. They’re being churned up by various pressures from all sides. I had a conversation, you know, when we came, when we reassembled and the many of our churches from Covid, there were changes to lunchtime. And look, I had my opinion too.
I do. And, I don’t like change either, Brother Matt, you know, and someone was churning and just talking to me and I said, I wanna get this straight. We’re called to preach about a Savior who had no place to lay His head. And we’re getting all stirred up about where, when, and who serves us a really nice snack or sandwich or whatever it is. Have I got this right? And what is that one except our own comfort taking a huge place in our emotional makeup. And the brother said, well, no, that’s not the point. And I said, no, that’s exactly the point. And I see a need that we, those of us on this call who have responsibility, that we extend some trust that your co-laborers, your elder brothers, they are very diligently trying to lead with a sensitivity for everybody’s needs and something that can look so easy, clear, and plain to me, may not to someone else. And he is called to be a shepherd to both. And I say all of that with full knowledge that I haven’t lived up to my own advice at times.
Really appreciate that. Really appreciate that a lot, Brother Kevin. Thanks for sharing that. And I think, all the participants on the call, having many of us gone through covid and leadership can very well relate to being in the position of calling the shots and making the decision. And opinions are cheap. And, when you don’t have to make the decision, you can have an opinion. Sometimes it’s more difficult when you have to make the decision to have the opinion because of all that you carry. And I think you captured that with thinking about the entire flock and what that looks like.
I’d like to go now to this final slide, Brother Kevin, I think this really applies to some of the questions that we’ve learned or we’ve come across here from the participants. Now, we’ve done the personal work. That was the previous slide, the management of change. How do we lead through it? Now we’re gonna think about doing it corporately. And I’m gonna, you’ve mentioned the beard already and can I bring up a specific moment in time? And I remember at the Eureka Conference, some years back, you gave one of the Brotherhood Conference talks and you addressed the beard. And that was at a time that people were starting to wear beards. And yet there was some confusion about that. There was some uneasiness about that.
And, some work was later gonna be done or some statements were gonna be later made. But I felt like you gave a talk and I would love, if you remember what I’m talking about, I’d be glad for you to look at these points here because I felt like that was a moment and that was an issue where there was leading through some group dynamics and there was leading through accommodating change and yet cautious at the same time. What can you share using that particular matter as an example?
Yeah, I appreciate it. And, I think this can still be a little bit of a touchy subject among brothers. Some of us are really fine and have moved on and others are just saying what the world took you so long, and other brothers are saying that was a big mistake. I understand that. But, I was also aware that back in the 1930s there was a discussion in the Elder Body at the time. Young brothers were shaving their beards. It was an expectation of the church membership that when someone reached a certain age, they would, a man would grow a beard. And it was actually brother Eli Dotterer, who was elder in Junction, Ohio at the time. And he had a beard. He wore a beard. And, after a while, as the discussion went on and the thought was, well, maybe we need to reprimand in some way, these young brothers for doing that, he spoke up and he said, brothers, we can’t do that.
That’s not the scriptural response to this. And wisely the Elder Body didn’t. And of course, shortly thereafter, World War II came on the scene and the influence of American society, which pushed the respectability, everything from the military, then to the huge corporate expansion that took place in our country in the 1950s that prompted a clean shaven look and equated that with certain values in society, which our church aligned with respect and for authority and clean shaven and respect for good order. And there was a binding of those together.
Things have changed. I’m not always comfortable with that personal change. I grew up in the 1970s. There was some of that, but when the discussions came and we saw that there was a movement to accept this among good sound, believing brothers in the Lord, the Elder Body opened the discussion. And I gave a preamble at the conference in Eureka that you mentioned, Brother Matt. Not stating any position, but just asking some questions. Hopefully that would lead to an understanding of where the Elder Body was headed. But I want you to know, I read that verbatim to the entire Elder Body before I ever said that publicly.
I didn’t just unilaterally make those statements. That certainly would have an influence on the discussion, not because it was me, just because it was a General Conference, but I did read that. I said, brothers, you need to be, we need together to be comfortable with this. It’s moving us in the direction that our conversations are taking, but it is telegraphing to the church where our conversations are going.
And, it would’ve been presumptuous at best and a far more wrong than that for me to have just done that unilaterally on my own. My point in this being that in 1930 the change was in one direction in 2000 and whatever it was, the change was in completely the opposite direction. But the decision of the Elder Body was the same.
We don’t go beyond the Scripture. And, it was wise and proven to be good and I am confident that that one too, so we can get caught up in the change, the item itself. I think it’s really good to understand that building consensus, looking at the Word above all, what sayeth the Scripture will allow us to accommodate change when it needs to in the right direction it needs to go, will give us the appropriate measure of caution. Proverbs warns us not to be given to change, and it warns us also not to ask, well, why were the former days better than these? You are not wise to inquire. So, when I think about group dynamics and that example, not that we’ve always done things timely and well, but I think that was one where the Elder Body operated with a high level of caution, accommodation, wisdom, and prudence.
I really appreciate that. And, can I safely say, I’d like to put my finger on something I felt like happened in that talk, and I’m curious if it was intentional. It was both accommodating and cautious at the same time. And I’m not sure you won any friends with that talk either, because it was equally offensive if you pardon my language. But, I felt like it was effective in that way. So I’m curious as a leader, if that’s something to learn from.
Well, I was never trying to be offensive, but hopefully, and I don’t mean offensive technically. I meant that in, I would say it this way, Brother Matt, I really wanted, I was really hoping that people who were just operating so unilaterally as to be disregarding of someone who thought differently and just, I’m gonna do this and I don’t really, it’s nobody’s business to tell me what to do. That’s not the right attitude either. Nor is it well that they’re just doing that because they wanna look like the latest Hollywood movie star. That’s not, and by the way, that’s something I probably once said on this very topic, so if there’s any incriminating statement there, it’s probably myself, that wouldn’t be a right attitude on my part. So yeah, I was probably trying to call all of us who would have opinions on a topic like that into account.
And I appreciate that. And I personally felt like it was very well done. And, certainly Spirit inspired but also had appreciated it from a leadership perspective that it was not necessarily courting one group of thinkers over another group of thinkers but all of us. Now, there are some wonderful questions that have been chimed in. And would ask you, is speaking of this biblical one and unbiblical, we talk about going to the Word. Sometimes, we have change motivated that we can’t necessarily is unbiblical, does that necessarily mean Carte Blanche it’s okay. How do we as leaders deal with that? Often that question of, well, does the Bible say I can’t do this or that other thing? What does that look like in a corporate setting and how do we navigate that?
If I understand the question, I do think we need to be careful when I say, well, the Bible doesn’t tell me I can’t do that. The Bible doesn’t tell us we can’t smoke cigarettes. But I think we probably all on this call would agree. That is unbecoming of a disciple of Jesus. That’s, by the way, a cultural norm that we have as a church. And frankly, I have to be honest with you, I hope that doesn’t change. I think that’s a very healthy group corporate dynamic that is an expectation that is placed upon us one of another, for the purpose of giving a good example to the world of who we are.
It makes a lot of sense, but can I say that it’s a sin against Scripture? Not really. Someone might say, well, we’re a Temple of the Holy Ghost. You know, we’re temples of a living God. We should keep the temple. And I would say, yeah, but you know what? I’m about 20 pounds over weight too. Right? So that’s not a completely sound, not a bad argument, but it’s not, we need to be careful. But we also can’t just say individual liberties should trump group expectations every time.
We must in those situations go, I think, go to the deeper matters of the law. Do I esteem others higher than myself? Am I willing for the peacefulness and unity and harmony of the body to forego a personal desire for others? And by the way, am I sure I’m not using some group norm to exert overt control over someone that doesn’t belong to me either? You know, the Apostle Paul, he said he would eat no meat as long as the world stands. Wonderful example of his willingness to be submissive to the whole.
But that doesn’t give me liberty to say, well, Matt, you can’t wear those glasses because, you know, you can’t make me wanna look as good as you. It’s not intellectually honest, I guess is what I would offer you. I don’t know if that’s getting you.
No, I appreciate that. I mean, speaking to the cultural norms is, I think, a metric, that is interesting to think about. And I do, I’m mindful of time. So Arlan, if you have any questions that have been chatted in, you feel free to jump in. One question that I have for you, Brother Kevin. Somebody chimed in about slippery slope syndrome, people saying if this happens, then this. How do you think through the slippery slope?
Well, if I go back to the parable and that third shepherd, when he expanded the pasture, but he expanded it with some new fences, right? New boundaries. The slippery slope argument, there’s some ambiguity about it. You can’t argue it in some cases, but you cannot use it for everything. I go back to my example of the year 2000, 23 years ago in the revision of our Zion’s Harp, someone who was very opposed to that, vehemently opposed to that, used a slippery slope argument that said that Zion’s Harp will be gone in five years if you make that revision. That’s just gonna lead to a dissatisfaction and it’s gonna. That’s not a rational argument. It’s an irrational argument generated by fear. It goes back to, do we know ourself? That argument could have been made when we move from one language to another. That argument could be made that we shouldn’t go preach the gospel in Mexico or Japan because that culture is so different than ours. They’ll just never understand where we’re coming from and we’ll just adopt those strange practices, which are not strange to those people. They might be different to us. So I do understand there is some rationale that works. There’s a good warning, but to just say every change that we make is gonna lead to a slippery slope is probably just not a good intellectual sound place to be. I don’t know how to answer it better than that.
Appreciate that, brother. I really appreciate the conversation and the discussion and, Brother Kevin, I think your last comments speaks to this place where we can get into when we deal in absolutes or perhaps overly strong statements in a scenario like this, which is really easy to get into. But the idea of grace and assuming good intent and sweet reasonableness, hopefully calls us out of that or away from that.
So one question, just an overarching question is we saw the questions come in. You really had kind of this fear or this desire as pastors or as shepherds of a flock, you’re gonna have some in your congregation that are gonna be more resistant of change, are gonna be more uncomfortable with change, are gonna feel like we’re changing too much too quickly.
And you’re gonna have others in your congregation that are gonna be ready to adopt change quickly and are more ready to go into those places. How do you deal with those opposing viewpoints within the congregation? What is just some general encouragement, teaching, communication, what have you seen to be some essentials as you navigate into those opposing mindsets?
Again, I wanna repeat the thought that I’ve repeated early. I do not in any way want to present that I have done this well or correct. Certainly I haven’t done it correct or well every time that I’ve been confronted with this, so in 30 years, you make a lot of mistakes. And when you get to the point where you’re on the horizon of retirement, it’s those things that you start to ruminate on. So, bear with me on that.
I do think that if you need to listen and you need as a minister, as a deacon, an elder, you need to be willing to modify. You may have thought, and then someone who’s really not on board with what you’re proposing or how you’re proposing to do it. Our egos can get in the way, and we need to be careful. We need to listen. And especially when it’s reasonable, when it’s done with respect. There are times that people will come to every one of us, and it’s not in that. And, those are the times, depending on our nature, we can be patient or we can have our proverbial hot button hit, you know, and there are times where you just need to thank them.
Someone you need to express that you understand, but that you have a responsibility that is bigger than just one person or one family, or one perspective, and you need to move forward believing it’s what you’re being directed to do. It aligns with the Word of God. It aligns with the counsel of your fellow elders. You hope they will work with you going forward. You cannot allow yourself to be held hostage. That is a good strategy to make an unhealthy church. And there is a question here about how do you help people through change who have not had previous experiences in leadership that were healthy.
And that can range from, it was abusive to it was ambiguous or neglectful. Certainly those who were called to be shepherds, elders, deacons and certainly to a degree, every brother who’s called to the ministry and his wife can’t be held hostage to a certain family perspective or ideology. You need to move forward and decisions need to be made. And to do that with kindness and respect and understanding, but also with purpose, to me, that’s a strategy for getting through it.
Thanks. I really appreciate that. And, the main points I heard tonight is know yourself and how you walk through these areas, know your congregation, and then walk wisely and discerningly, and then give grace, right. Give grace, listen and give grace in the midst of that. Matt, did you have any last words? And I know, Brother Kevin, you probably had a few last thoughts you wanted to share. I don’t. I just wanted to give Brother Kevin the opportunity to provide any sort of summary.
Thank you. There is a question here too about how to discern local culture versus national church direction. It’s a great point and I just hope my fifth bullet point here that I’ve kind of written down just as we were starting, so if I were to summarize, what I hope I have shared, and hopefully it’s useful, is we do need to know ourself and why we’re behaving or why we’re feeling how we feel.
Two is that we don’t consider people who are different in their either ability to adapt or their desire for new things, new pastor, they’re not the enemy. We need to assume good intent as we manage all that’s happening in our churches. We need to manage then our own reactions and we need to learn to understand other people’s why.
Why do they desire that or why do they resist that? Or why do they react in that way? So we need to learn how to manage our own reactions and we need to learn to understand others. And, the last thing I would say, and I could pose it as a question, I’m not gonna pose it. I’m gonna pose it as my thought, if you will. In these times of disruption and beyond hectic pace of change, we are better together than we are apart. That’s how I would summarize what I hope I’ve tried to communicate.
I think that’s well said. Charged topics. Appreciate that. Appreciate everything you’ve shared, Brother Kevin. Yeah, likewise, Brother Kevin. Thank you for your time and thank you to each of you who joined and who shared questions which shaped this content and who took time out of your schedules to do part of this webinar. We walk humbly through these areas. We all have a lot to learn and to grow in. But we walk with a great Shepherd who is cautious, yet aware and who guides us along. And, our prayer is that we can learn from Him and be modeled by Him, and shaped by Him.
So thanks again, for this evening. Thanks for being part of it, Brother Kevin. Really appreciate it. And, we wish you God’s blessings as you serve the congregation God has called you to. May you do it with wisdom and with grace, and may you have a blessed Holiday Season.