Last in series: 40 Days of Faith
So pretty much everyone I have ever met, if they’re honest, has something about themselves they would like to change.
Sometimes it’s big stuff, like an addiction, or a bad habit.
Sometimes it’s wanting to lose weight, or develop better money management.
Sometimes it’s wanting to find some resolution or healing from a hurt in our past. Or it’s wanting a different job, or finding more balance or meaning in life. I bet without much effort, each one of us in this room could think of multiple things about ourselves or our lives that we would love to see some change in. And we see tons of organizations like weight watchers, or the the entire self help industry, Built on helping people change And honestly it seems to be a the core of many faith communities as well. Looking at the mission statements of churches you’ll see this kind of focus on change all of the place. Things like Introducing people to the life changing power of God’s mercy and truth Helping people find new and renewed life Helping people live impossibly good lives To transform lives and renew our city Those are all actual mission statements of churches that I know Or even ours here at BLV - Helping people find deeper, fuller, more connected lived All of those are change statements.
I think what these churches and organizations and industries understand is that a feeling of being a different person today than we were yesterday is core to feeling alive… BUT at the same time lasting and meaningful change is really hard. We may all want to change something, but we don’t seem to be able to just change without some kind of help.
The APA, The American Psychological Association, highlighted the 6 most common reasons we that we struggle to change.
We rely on negative emotions for motivation. While it’s understandable to think that strongly felt negative emotions like regret, shame, fear, and guilt should be able to catalyze lasting behavior change, the opposite is true. Negative emotions do not motivate lasting change, they actually have a paralysing effect, working against lasting change
Knowing is not everything. We think that just knowing that a behavior is bad will lead to us changing. In fact just knowing something or having new information very rarely will lead to change on it’s own. To point back to the opening video, the rational side of our brain is significantly over matched by emotional part of our brains.
We try to eat the entire elephant in one bite. Change is a big thing, no matter what it is, it’s almost never possible to take all of it on at once. We often fail to change because we underestimate the process. Change very rarely happens over night and we forget that failure is usually a given and it’s probably going to be more than once. The time-tested change process models all factor in failure as part of the process, and encourage those who would change to see failing as a step, not as the end of the process or an excuse to stop trying.
We neglect the toolbox. Call them tools or devices or supports, whatever you like; the point is that we need certain reliable go-tos to support sustained change. Changing our diet requires, at minimum, that we find the knowledge about healthier ways to eat and a practical plan for making it happen. We all need a toolbox of such supports to rely on during the long haul. Some of the most common tools that we neglect are the people in our lives, involving a buddy or asking for support from a community are two of the most helpful things that can sustain real change in our life.
We don’t actually want to change. We will not find success if we are only changing because we think we should, or because of outside pressure. We actually have to want to change or see the value of changing ourselves. External pressure to change just doesn’t work, any change it produces is usually short lived. Think of people who want their significant other to change, “if they really loved me they would stop doing that thing,” The reality is that it isn’t about how much or little that significant other loves them, its about whether that significant other truly feels the desire to change for themselves. And finally the most common reason we fail. We try to change too many things. If you can commit to changing one behavior long-term, and really make it stick, that’s commendable. But trying to take on multiple behaviors at once is a surefire way to send all of them into a ditch. The internal resources we rely on to make change happen are limited — attention, self-control, motivation, etc. Trying to change too much places unrealistic demands on those resources and dooms our efforts early on.
I find that all absolutely fascinating
And what strikes me as a pastor is that in my experience many churches tend to use variations of those 6 ineffective approaches to change
This is not all churches, some have a great legacy of healthily leading people through positive life change.
Unfortunately, I don’t think that is the majority of churches. In my experience of being in and out of churches for most of my life and talking with friends that are pastors.
It seems as if the general approach is to take the 52 Sunday in a year and in your sermons make sure you have clearly presented
30 to 40
bad behaviors, bad beliefs, or bad thought processes. And then propose in contrast 30 to 40 new good behaviors, good beliefs, or good thought processes.
And the Bible usually ends up just being the support case for these 30-40 behaviors and beliefs, rules. I guess it’s no wonder why a common misconception of the Bible is that it should be treated as a rule book or code of conduct, which it absolutely was not intended be. It probably because when pastors teach us “this week’s rule from the Bible” it lead us to think we should read the Bible that way.
...Lets just take a moment, and reference back to the 6 most common reasons we struggle to change.
SLIDE Now let’s just take as a given that all these churches want you live an impossibly good life, any change they suggest is from a place of care for you, and let’s very generously say that all of the changes they suggest are objectively good and correct.
Generously granting all of that It strikes me that this approach still undermines real change. It is in general relying on information. Like, if you understand that something is wrong, then you will change it.
My experience is that negative emotion is highly relied upon in churches to motivate change. And if we are hitting a new subject every other week or so, then not only are you being given only a couple weeks to eat the elephant, but you are being bombarded with way more areas of suggested change than you can possibly tackle. This is even assuming that you have the tools to follow through on that change and honestly want to change in the first place
Now, that is not a very kind picture of American churches, and it is likely that my own unhappiness of this is coming out, but it makes me upset that churches are communicating that they are meant to be the support system which helps us make the most significant changes in our life, but then in practice seem to be so unaware of how human behavior and change actually work. Again to say, this is not true of every church, but I do think it is a fair critique of most.
Interestingly, I have actually found that almost every pastor I talk to agrees that making clear moral absolute statements in a sermon, Those 30 to 40 topics of what is wrong or right, does not produce real life change.
They will tell me that the real change happens when people are in one on one pastoring, or in a small group, or most significantly, when a spiritual interaction with God initiated a change.
Great! But, If we agree that making those 30-40 moral absolute statements of good and bad don’t create change, why is it so prevalent in churches and sermons? And the answer I usually get back feels particularly sad to me, “it’s Because the most vocal people in the church want it.” Almost every pastor I know talks about the pressure they have felt from people in their church to make a statement on something.
To make sure they were clear about how something is wrong or right.
I know several pastors who felt like they have had to make statements in a sermon that went beyond how they personally felt, because they felt pressured by those in their church to do so. There is a pastor I spoke to recently that told me that he has gotten in more trouble from things he didn’t say than controversial things he did say.
there is this sense in many religious setting that the worst thing you can do is let someone leave that room not knowing that some that some behavior or belief of theirs is wrong.
Like, if they were to walk out of here thinking that it’s ok to keep doing that thing they are doing, or believing that thing they believe, and I haven’t done everything I can to make it clear that I disapprove or that is wrong, then somehow I have failed in my responsibility to God I wonder if you can resonate with any part of that. Particularly if you have grown up in church. Man, let alone how terrible that is for the person we are supposedly making right and wrong more clear for,
I find that just soooo corrosive to my soul, that it’s on me to change that person’s behavior or make it clear that I disapprove. That is not how Jesus operated or lived Jesus became famous (and controversial) for unconditional embrace and acceptance Not exclusion and disapproval, with the exception of his disapproval of religious people doing this very kind of thing we’re talking about And in my experience, the vocal people who are most likely to be wanting this from their pastor are those who feel perfectly comfortable and think that they don’t have much to change. It’s never, I wish you would have said something that would have provoked a change in me, it’s always fear that you didn’t address something in someone else. Just like that famous saying of Jesus, “make sure other people don’t leave the room unaware of the spek in their eye, but totally don’t worry about the plank in yours.” Wait.. that may not be quite right.
Again, my own emotions and anger about this are probably seeping out. Apologies if that's the case But, here comes the redemptive turn to my sermon. I’ve brought us down here, but now I am going to try and take us back up to hopeful and inspired.
Because the truth is, we can find the changes in life we need. Change is hard, but it is possible. People do find recovery from addiction People do lose weight People do find hope and meaning in life People do quit bad habits and start good ones People do find love and belonging People do find healing from their wounds and hope for the future.
Change does happen.
According what is known in psychology as the Stages of Change Model. All lasting change happens in stages Precontemplation, An unconscious processing that a behavior is becoming problematic. You have no intention to change the behavior, but something inside you is becoming aware this might not be ideal Contemplation, You are now actively aware that your behavior is be problematic and thus you begin considering the pros and cons of changing the behavior. Preparation, You have now decided that you will change the behavior and begin thinking through a plan to do so Action You actually take the step of changing the behavior, you begin following through on your plan for behavior change Maintenance. You are living in the behavior change and using supports to maintain that change. Relapse Almost every behavior change comes with some form of relapse. And you can relapse at any stage. This should be seen as a step toward change, not failure. After relapse you then reenter the cycle at one of the first three stages. (I love that this is part of the model! Feels so true to every experience of change I have experienced)
Now that is a lot of work, that is no small thing. No wonder we can’t manage changing more than one thing at a time. And so it becomes important to make sure we are spending our energy in the right areas, that we are trying the change what is actually the best thing to change as that particular point and time.
This gets me thinking about a famous passage from the Bible -- something Paul wrote in his letter to the church in Rome -- especially that first step of Precontemplation
Romans 8 26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose
Man, I love that. Like I don’t even know where to start. I have no clue which area of needed change I should pursue, and what should be on the backburner. But, God searches our heart. Even as we don’t know, he knows us. Like, I have a million things I need to change, my weakness is all over the place, and he is interceding. He is working on them. But, in the meantime I can trust that he will walk me through what is the right thing to tackle right now. Because he know and wants what is actually good for me.
And this has been my experience -
I think about one of the times I most distinctly felt like god walked me through this process of change.
I had stopped going to church a few years earlier, but on this day I had found myself in a church for the first time in a long time.
And I was not feeling what the pastor was saying. So, I kinda put my head down and started daydreaming. But, in that daydream, I kinda found myself talking with God,. I was telling him about what I was finding hard in life, about things I disliked about what this pastor was saying, about my uncertainty of where my life was going.
And I felt coming into my awareness, like it was moving from precontemplation to contemplation, SLIDE was this sense that regardless of my reservations, I should try to connect with this church community, that I would like my life more, be more supported in life, if I were to commit to that community.
And so I decided I was game, I had seen there was retreat coming up that weekend. And that seemed like the quickest way to get connected. Preparation, and, we signed up for it. Action.
Then we started going to the sunday services each week and the midweek young adults group. Maintenance. Next thing I knew I had this robust support system around me.
And honestly connecting to a community wasn’t even on my radar of the top 10 things I should change about my life at that time, but it was the one I felt was brought forward at that moment. And it was absolutely the right thing for me.
I think about some of the other changes I made in life after that, and none of them would have stuck if I hadn’t had first made this change to live with a support system.
So, here is the truth today.
You have like at least 8 things wrong with you right now. Like at least 8 things you should definitely change.
And if you don't think so, then that's one of your 8 right there.
Some of us have more. I currently aware of like 12-15 areas for change in my life. But, we can only work on one or maybe two areas of change at a time
And we here at BLV, we don’t see our role as highlighting the 30-40 things that we think are most likely to be wrong with people in this community.
And then telling you how you should correct those 30-40 things. No, we see our role as helping you walk your own journey.
Helping you discover what that one thing is for you right now. We want to give you tools, and we want to be a tool in your life that can actually bring about lasting change.
And so we won’t just stand up here each week and make a statement on some moral absolute.
That is our promise to you. You might walk out of here disappointed that Vince or I didn’t make something clear for everyone to hear.
But we’re okay with that. Because more helpful to our mission of helping people find deeper fuller lives is this: that we connect you with the God who already knows exactly what is best for you and is already interceding on your behalf, and who has a wonderful plan to help you at just the right pace to change in the ways you need to, and who is inviting you to cooperate with that plan -- not just so you can change, but so you can experience less anxiety in the meantime, while you’re in process!
And God does it all with love and invitation, not with shame or guilt. He leads us as a God is who working for our good. And that I think can help us actually find the changes in life that we really need. The change we should pursue like today, right now
And so to that end (Would you stand with me)