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For centuries change arrived at a pace best described today as glacial. It was slow enough we could discuss the change, experiment with it, become familiar with it, and decide as a group (locally, regionally, nationally) whether or not to adopt it. Those days are gone; let me repeat, those days are gone. The frequency with which change arrives has gone from periodic and sporadic to constant and now along with increasing frequency comes increasing severity (if you want to lose sleep at night, look up the emerging reproductive technique known as in vitro gametogenesis). To get a handle on this (it’s baseball season), let’s run the bases a bit (and think about change in our churches while we run).

When on 1st base you are safe if a body part touches it. The other team has no way to get you “out” while you touch the bag. So far, so good. Staying put on 1st base is a great strategy---as long as nothing else happens. But the game must go on, & your team only wins if it scores more runs than the other team. As the game progresses, the options multiply. The easiest one is the next batter hits a home run; in that case I get to saunter around the bases, no one can touch me, and I trot on home to score before the home run hitter crosses after me. Wouldn’t that be loverly? I can advance to second base safely if the pitcher walks the batter (I go to second and the walked batter trots to first). Hmm, I didn’t get all the way home, but I’m making safe, slow, sure progress. However, the usual way to advance is when the batter hits the ball, I have to dash like crazy to a base and arrive before the ball does from the opposing fielders. If the hit was far enough in the outfield, I have to make a split second judgment to advance further to 3rd base or possibly even stretch it all the way home. The 3rd base coach holds up his hands or rotates them to let me know whether to stop or keep going.

The options get more complex. If the batter hits it high in the air, I have to decide to either stay close to 1st (if the ball is caught I have to return to 1st), or take a chance they won’t catch the fly ball and gain a head start as a base runner. The high risk choice is to steal a base, one of the more exciting plays in baseball (that is NOT an oxymoron). I start to take a larger and larger lead off of first base, making sure I can get back in time in case the pitcher tosses it to the 1st baseman, time my escape precisely, and run like Jehu to get to second before the pitch goes to the catcher who relays it to the infielder covering 2nd base. Confused yet? And these are not all the options. It can be bewildering; learning all of the subtleties (the cadence of the pitcher’s throw, the body language of the fielders, the strength of the catcher’s throw to second base, what kind of pitch is best for me to steal on, does my fellow teammate in the batter’s box know I’m going to steal) takes years to perfect. The absolute NO-NO is to be caught in between bases and not have time to get back to one before being tagged with the ball.

This is where many of our churches find themselves---between the bases. They know change has happened, other changes are coming; staying on that “safe” option has been removed, I have to make a choice. Rather than have others dictate to us what to do, we need to be proactive; to be a thermostat, not a thermometer. Our Lord told us in the Sermon on the Mount what Kingdom life looked like, then proclaimed He was its King, proved it on Calvary and the empty tomb, and asked us to start living like Kingdom citizens in Kingdom communities we call churches. The form has changed over the centuries but not the function (Jn.13.34-35). Get prepared; we’re on base, and someone is coming to bat.

(For more on this subject ask for a free e-book on handling rapid change or read John Kotter’s Leading Change.)

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