Change the oil

oil_changeWe have a problem in the church today… we don’t like to do normal ordinary maintenance.

We like to maintain, but not do the work of maintenance.

When I was young, my dad did all of the minor and major work on our automobiles. I spent many hours with him working on one vehicle or another.

Of course, one of the things we did was change the oil. We lived in the country far from everything, which meant we drove many miles to get to anything, and my dad was insistant about changing the oil every 3000 miles. Those 3000 miles went by quickly in our life patterns.

As a child, I didn’t fully grasp the importance of this routine act of crawling under the car and draining the old oil so we could put in fresh oil. My dad would do it and I would help. I’m sure, early on, my “help” wasn’t really. As I got older, though, I began to actually participate in a way that contributed until I could do the whole job on my own.

I remember thinking sometimes that we had just changed the oil, would it really matter if we didn’t change it this time. If we just skipped it to watch TV or play a game or do something else, would it really matter. I mean, it is dirty work. When we had a “garage” it never had a concrete floor and definitely wasn’t climate controlled, so we were subject to the weather and were crawling on the ground in the dirt and gravel. It took time. It was tedious. When you were finished with all the work, everything appeared the same, there was no visible result. It was unrewarding work. No one ever stops you and comments on a great oil change job. All this would leave me wondering at times if it was really worth it.

However, without doing this, our vehicles would not have continued to run and get us from A to B as they did or last the many years and 10’s of thousands of miles we put on them each year.

I find in the church today we often ignore some of the basic maintenance items. This is not a commentary on changing lightbulbs, cleaning carpet, or replacing furnace filters. This is about the systems, programs, and methods maintenance and checks we should be doing regularly.

It is so easy to get complacent and comfortable in what we are doing and how we go about it. We get stuck in our routines and patterns and mistakenly assume everything is always going to be all right because it appears to be so now. The work of maintenance is tedious, sometimes dirty, unappreciated, and difficult.

Just as old oil will eventually lead to a breakdown in an engine, stale ideas and old systems eventually lead to the breakdown of a church.

I am not advocating change for change sake. I am also not suggesting changing the Gospel, that is eternal. I am saying there are things that must change as we go forward or they will become a hinderance that could end up disastrous. Methods and forms have a lifespan, they are not eternal. At one time, we used giant clip art books, Risographs, and printed newsletters to effectively communicate. Today it is email, texting, and social media. Things change.

When oil is put in a car, it is new and fresh and ready to do its job for some time. During that time it is good for the engine. It protects and keeps things smooth. Over time, contaminates get in, the chemical properties of the oil begin to breakdown and it loses its effectiveness. The same is true of systems and procedures and even ministries within the church. Just because something was good once and worked for a time, doesn’t mean it is still good or viable. Likewise, just because something has run its course and a change is needed doesn’t mean that it was bad. There is a life cycle to things, even within the church.

We must be willing to take hard looks at what we are doing and how we go about it to make sure that it is all as fresh as it can be. There are things we are doing that need to stop. Things that have run their course and no longer effective.

Emotion is what makes this so difficult. We have to get past the emotion and nostalgia and realize that we can make a change without it being a negative statement to what was. When oil is changed, we are not saying the old oil was useless and no good, we are recognizing it is time to put in new. The same holds true for programs, styles, songs, technology, colors, curriculum, staff, and so on within the church. There are times that a change must be made, not because something is bad or wrong, but because it is time for something new and fresh to remain effective.

Without the willingness and courage to honestly evaluate and make changes where needed, we eventually see breakdown and decline. If we wait too long to make the necessary change then the results are even more damaging and can be fatal to the organization.

When we do make the change, we have to remember not to degrade what was, it served its purpose and worked well for a time, we can celebrate that fact. We also cannot let nostalgia, laziness, fear, or emotion keep us from injecting new and fresh life into the church.

Maintenance is vital. We have to change the oil from time to time.

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