As we drove through the grassy fields of the Waikato during our summer holiday, we came to a small town. I noticed that the town had two churches, they were both rectangles of concrete block or brick that were popular in church architecture prior to 1970. I looked at these rectangles and became annoyed with our church forebears. Why couldn't they see that laying out their churches this way, was going to limit the church in the future. These long rectangles with hard pews set out in rows, it wasn’t going to be the future of the church. Why did they lack the insight to build structures that were more friendly, that helped us to develop community, discussion and interaction. Why couldn’t they see that they were just leaving us with problems. Of course I caught myself, and realised my annoyance was a little irrational and unreasonable, we can only do the best we can based on what we know today.
This incident made me aware that once we start a process of critical reflection and deconstruction it is only a breath away from becoming critical. The frustration with the slowness of change, the difficulty of helping people even see the need for change, the work it takes to help people imagine the future, the weight of it all accumulates over time. The frustrations can quickly lead to a general attitude of negativity towards the church. As I try and introduce change and cast critically reflective eyes over the church I need to make sure that I have measures in place that can keep me realistic and prevent me from becoming negatively critical. If I am constantly negative it has an impact on my wellbeing but it also stops people from hearing the genuine critique that I have to offer. Here are 6 practices that I find help protect me from slipping into negativity.
- Have some close friends and/or family who can be completely honest with you, give them permission to say “that is a bit harsh!, I think you are slipping into negativity.”
- Create a practice where every few months you must attend a service or event and you must find 3-4 things, that were done well, and have a holiday from offering critique.
- Send some positive feedback or encouragements in a card or e-mail to your faith community leader. It can be pretty tough being in leadership today.
- Make time to read stories of successful change in other communities, these stories can keep you encouraged, help you believe that change is possible and that it will happen.
- Create small goals, you are not going to change the structure of the whole church today, but perhaps you can start the conversation.
- Record examples of small changes and small goals that you have achieved, as they occur and look back over them regularly. Change comes gradually and it is easy to overlook the gains that have been made.