Just about every pastor in America who has gone through some formalized training (Bible College or Seminary) has probably been exposed to some conversation on how to manage change in your church. If they haven’t, then their institution needs to do some serious revision to their curriculum.
One of the most influential church growth thinkers of our time, Carl F. George, created a popular analogy for the discussion of managing church change. He called it the “Berry Bucket Theory,” discussed in the book Leading and Managing Your Church which he co-authored with Robert E. Logan (Here is a link to a good article summarizing the theory.). I had to read the article when I studied at Multnomah Bible College as a Pastoral Ministry major. Even though it was published 26 years ago, if you just Google “Berry Bucket Pastor,” you will get a truck load of recent blog articles by denominational leaders, church planters, etc. that reference it to this day (See for example this article by Dr. Thom Rainer, President and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.).
I think there is a lot of wisdom in the analogy and the book is worth a careful read and reflection. However, “Berry Bucket” and other analogies for managing change of thinking and behavior in a church have, I believe, been over-emphasized in the American Evangelical Church.
The theory—and others like it—often encourages a careful approach to managing change in our churches. In the case of the different kinds of “Berries” in our churches, we have to carefully manage our relationship and communication with these groups as we consider their unique interests and openness to new ideas. Another pastor taught me a simpler approach that insinuated that the goodwill I pour into congregants gives me “change in my pocket” that I can later spend when advocating for unpopular decisions. The key is to make sure I always have change in my pocket or else I will have no more leverage to lead. One of the more popular expressions used to justify inaction on difficult subjects is the wisdom of “choosing your battles wisely.”
WHAT IN THE WORLD DOES ANY OF THIS HAVE TO DO WITH EVANGELICALS AND THE ISSUE OF IMMIGRATION REFORM?
Well quite a few Evangelical pastors are weary of engaging in any kind of significant way—through conversations with staff, preaching on Sunday morning, etc.—on this issue as it is deemed “politically divisive.” I would argue that many are doing so due to a fear that it would cause division in their churches. Even if they personally agree with something like the six principles of the Evangelical Immigration Table, they are afraid to speak out because they feel that the “Former Berries” are still the majority in their churchs, and fighting them on this would be a losing battle. Or to use the other analogy, perhaps a young pastor who is new to a church is calculating that he hasn’t earned enough “change in his pocket” yet to successfully challenge the church on the issue (Success being defined at least in part, if we are being honest, as keeping our job!).
The great irony in this response is that the approach described above—with the Berry Bucket, change or picking your battles wisely—is, upon closer inspection, itself a very political strategy! So we are not willing to approach an issue that has political connections because we have not done enough political work with our “constituents” or have concluded that the cost of doing so outweighs the benefits of even beginning that process at this time.
But what if the issue is one over which we have formed a clear biblically-based moral conviction? Many of the other articles featured in this blog, for example, examine in detail the Scriptural perspective and facts surrounding undocumented immigrants. What if the issue has incredibly painful human dimensions with regard to a vulnerable group of people that God in His Word time and time again has said He has a special concern for (Deut. 10:17-19; Psalm 146:9; Zech. 7:10; Matt. 25:31-46)? What if some of those who are suffering are our neighbors, numbering by the hundreds if not thousands in the very communities we are called shepherd? What if some of these are even brothers and sisters in Christ?
If the plight of our nations undocumented immigrants is such an issue—and I have personally concluded that it is—then as a spiritual shepherd in the Body of Christ, I have no other choice than to speak. We can do so with humility and with respect for the educational process some of our congregants might need to go through—as well as some of our fellow pastors in the community—but we cannot remain silent. To do so would be the equivalent of asking the prophets of old such as Jeremiah (7:5-7) to remain silent so that his words do not result in personal pain or rejection.
May this moment in time be noted for a massive groundswell of courageous Evangelical pastors who fulfilled their biblical role to shepherd with truth and grace. It might, for a season, be personally inconvenient, but it is precisely the kind of leadership that the Church in America needs. More importantly, it is the kind of leadership of which the Chief-Shepherd would be proud (1 Peter 5:4).
Kirt Lewis is the Discipleship Pastor at The Pointe Church in Antelope, CA, and Senior Specialist US Church Mobilization with World Relief. He can be reached at [email protected]
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