Until recently, my (Ray) eighty-nine year old mother was fiercely independent. In the afternoons, she loved driving her white Ford Focus to McDonald’s for a frappe. Daily trips to Wal-Mart and Walgreens not only kept her refrigerator and medicine cabinet stocked, but also gave her a chance to stroll around and feel as if she was still part of the world. Sunday mornings, she and her car would make the fifteen-minute journey to church to study God’s Word, sing hymns, and visit with friends.
Yes, Mom loved her car and the independence it represented.
Things have changed. Mom is getting more confused. It is apparent her depth perception has diminished and her reaction times have increased. A recent trip to her doctor confirmed everyone’s fears. “LaVerne,” the doctor began, “No more driving, not at night, not in the daytime, never. No more driving.”
In spite of her doctor’s recommendation, Mom kept the car keys in their usual place. A number of times she shuffled to the garage, patted the top of her car, and said how much she missed “her.” Once she asked me if she could just back “her” down the driveway.
It was obvious she was not going to give up driving easily. We knew there was a good chance that when I returned home to Chicago and my brother returned to work, Mom and her car might go out on a date.
One evening, my brother and I sat at the kitchen table with our mother. We each held one of her thin hands, hands that had cooked a thousand meals, washed a million dishes, and were always there when we needed them. We asked her for the keys to the car.
From the look in her eyes, we could tell she did not comprehend why we were asking her to turn them over. I squeezed her hand and said, ‘Mom, we want to make sure you don’t accidentally go somewhere.” She laughed. my brother and I laughed. We all three cried. Mom gave us the keys.
Sometimes in the church, we need to make changes that require hard choices. We do not want to be abrupt or unkind. We appreciate so much the people who have worked hard for many years or sacrificed much in ministries that are more recent. We would rather die than disrespect them in any way.
Therefore, we wait. We wait and wait and wait for the right time. As we wait, some of the changes and choices happen by default. People leave. Ministries disintegrate. Congregations get dissatisfied. Staff gets discouraged.
Other times, we try the Band-Aid approach. Rather than making the strategic choices we know we need to make, we take a crack at a new program here or a new ministry there. The excitement and enthusiasm of something new lifts spirits for a while but ultimately leads nowhere.
If we are wise, we make hard choices – strategic choices. If we can patiently endure the initial pain or frustration caused by our decisions, our strategic choices can pave the way to a healthy and more effective church.
With Mom, we could have made the car decision by default. My brother could have waited for me. I could have waited for him. We both could have waited until our sister came to town. Worse yet, we could have waited until Mom had an accident and the authorities took her license away.
We could have tried the Band-Aid approach. Maybe she could drive only as far as Wal-Mart or McDonald’s. We might have tried limiting the time of day she drove. That tactic smacks of denial. It would merely delay the inevitable.
Fortunately, we understood we must make a hard choice, a strategic choice. The choice we made has caused tears and frustration even though we did it as respectfully as we knew how. The choice we made will keep her safe. The choice we made will protect other drivers.
What choice or change does your church need to make to be safe and healthy? Are you taking a wait and see attitude? Are you going to allow someone else to make the decisions? Are your leaders exhausting themselves trying to find new programs to infuse new life into your church because you are avoiding strategic change?
We hope not. We look forward to hearing that with God’s help you are making the hard choices in a prayerful, tender and respectful way and that your church is fulfilling Christ’s mission in your community.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine according to his power, that is at work within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
Ephesians 3:20 NIV