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Transformed by Hope

July 22, 2013
In my first column, we examined the concepts of change and placed it within the theology of hope. Today let’s take a moment to wrestle with the idea of transformation and the theology of hope. 

At the 2013 South Georgia Annual Conference session, the Conference voted to reduce the number of districts within the bounds of the Annual Conference from nine to six. As we move into the summer and the early stages of transition, the Office of Connectional Ministries (OCM), in prayerful support of the transition, will explore two books for staff development and ministry application. There are common themes within the readings of change, the theology of hope, transitions, emotional processes and behaviors, dealing with anxiety in congregational and organizational life and effective leadership in anxious times.

The first reading, “A Door Set Open: Grounding Change in Mission and Hope,” by Peter L. Steinke, explores change, the theology of hope and emotional processes.

The following are excerpts from the reading along with questions for group reflection.

Transformation redefines who we are and what we do. It is always an emotional experience. For one, transformation begins with endings. Death comes to a system in some form. The natural response is for people to grieve. As Ronald Heifetz notes in Leadership on the Line, leaders become vulnerable to people’s grievances. Action tends to slow down when grievances are strong. Grieving has a way of putting us on hold before it gently lets us go.

Transformation is a process. It may take five years, a generation, or perhaps even forty wilderness years to see its effects. Early in the process it isn’t possible to tell how transformed a church (organization) might become. So impatient and anxious, well-intended change agents turn a decade into an hour.

Joining God’s New Creation 
Understanding our hope in the gospel helps us to reframe the mission as followers for Jesus. The church’s hope for the future is in God, who raised Jesus from the dead. We hope for our own resurrection – “the resurrection of the body” and “life everlasting” (Apostles Creed). Our hope is never private. We hope for the world because God, who created the heaven and earth, will create a new heaven and earth – “his kingdom will have no end” (Nicene Creed).

Promise – “My hope is in you” – Psalm 39:7
Anticipating the time when God will fill the earth and transform the old heaven and earth into the new, Christians put aside their false notions of church. The church cannot afford to be a place to realize private religious agendas, a cozy place to escape from the craziness of the world, or a place where like-minded folks go to receive “message therapy” hearing what they want to hear.

Israel became a community of hope by refusing to allow the exile to be the epitome of their destiny. They confidently trusted that God would in his own time mend the brokenness.  They did not hope because they had posterity, a deep psychological need to be oriented, or hope springs eternal genes. It all came about because of God’s promise to and with human history. It is the promise of good news; of God’s will on earth as in heaven. It is only because God took the initiative that we can entertain the possibility of hope. His promise creates the hope, not the need for hope. Our hope is in God’s promise to renew all things. The future is different.  The one who has hope lives differently. We can take our lyres (and guitars, drums, and trumpets) off the trees in this time of dislocation and sing our songs of Zion. Praise rejects despair.

Group Reflection:
How do we understand and engage in change and transformation within the local church, district and annual conference? How does God’s mission for the church inform our understanding? Do we have a clear understanding of the biblical concept of hope?  As we engage in change and transformation how do we center our thoughts, actions, responses, challenges and opportunities to live into a new day within the hope of Christ?

In the next article, our reading will shift to central themes in the book, “Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times” by Peter Steinke. 

Our hope is still built on nothing less…

Blessings and Peace,  
Reverend Denise Walton

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