Diane Zemke’s Being SMART About Congregational Change is a book that provides wise tools and resources to help both the church and members deal with the stress of making change. Focused on doing church, in a healthy fashion, is Zemke’s passion. I see many connections between her insights into a churches culture, internal struggles, and congregational challenges like I see from the influence of principalities and powers against the same people and churches. This post will look for connections from Zemke’s sage insights that apply to helping the Evangelical church both understand and withstand the effects of spiritual warfare.
The author says that “no two congregations are the same” and cites “culture” as the determining factor. Handing down culture from generation to generation to me is a lot like handing down learned patterns of success or failure in spiritual warfare. I would argue that if we are disposed to learn culture from our families, then we also learn how to either survive or perish when facing the schemes of warfare. She says, “understanding your congregation’s culture is vital for enacting change.” I say, understanding the forces of evil in and around your congregation is crucial for its continued health and unity for their members. I believe people are divinely wired with a question, a desire, and a need to understand the who, what, where, when, why, and how people fall prey to evil, give in to temptation, and suffer moral failure at the devil’s expense.
People, as created beings in God’s image, whose ancestors were once without sin, seek an answer, hold a hope, and fight to escape the grips of sin. Zemke understands this parallel phenomenon to congregational change and even wrote a chapter called “Working with Conflict.” Surviving change is like surviving evil because the first step in survival is seeing the challenge or threat and reacting appropriately. My research suggests that desensitization to the problem, like congregational change or spiritual warfare, is a primary causal factor in both of these phenomenon’s. I wonder if we have a type of theological DNA that drives us to seek, know, understand, rationalize, and personalize the problem with sin. Yes, I believe we do. He is called the Holy Spirit, who lives in believers, and prepares nonbelievers to believe so they can both understand God and withstand evil, for our good and His glory.
I read a survey recently that said people do not leave the church because of the Pastor, the Elders, the Worship Songs, the Sunday School, or even the hardness of the pews. People leave because they are not treated well by their fellow members. I think Zemke is onto something in her book. She wrote an opinion in Christianity Today that describes the condition about how churches treat their members after they leave their church for another church. She said, “Portraying those who leave a church after much prayer as uncommitted and shallow is an instance of the church shooting its wounded.” Amen. How many of you have seen churches gossip, marginalize, and persecute their own members who are struggling and leave the church whether it is because of God’s calling or Satan’s calling? One for noble causes to glorify God, and one for nefarious causes to deify the devil. In either case, Zemke is right, churches hurt their own people. Remember, Paul says this is not a battle against flesh and blood (Eph. 6:12).
In her 2010 dissertation Zemke studied how “tempered radicals,” people whose personal beliefs and values do not necessarily line up with their organization, endeavor to live their lives on God’s terms and not their organizations terms. Some examples of tempered radicals in ministry or the workplace are women in all men professions or minorities in “traditionally White institutions”. I like Zemke’s notion of being a tempered radical (TR). Life is hard enough when one wears the full armor of God, but exploring how these hardened fundamental believer types can not only survive congregational challenges, but also spiritually flourish in any denomination because they focus on the source of their salvation, not the place of their salvation.
What does Zemke mean when she says that TR’s “straddle the worlds of now and not yet?” I support Zemke’s thesis that some Christians and TR’s have the natural skills and spiritual gifts to “see what could be in the midst of what is.” She says TR’s are people with vision. I have read about visioneering and studied the practices. To this day, I still do not have a good handle on how to describe a proven process for successful vision casting, I just know I do it sometimes. The best visions, in my opinion and lived experience, come from the internal nudging and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Some times they slip up on you over time and sometimes they just flash before you like Paul’s Damascus road experience.
Zemke gave me hope in my dissertation challenge to create safe spaces to guide people into a form of self-discovery and revelation concerning evil spirits, schemes, and temptations. She helped me because she knows how TR’s defend and survive congregational change. She described successful TR’s as those believers who know what battles to pick, how to ensure small wins, where to focus their energies, and how to pace the level of tolerable change within the congregation. Change strategy guidebooks will tell you the same thing, but I like Zemke because she is presenting this to the church and it connects to my dissertation. I face the same roadblocks that Zemke describes if I move too fast with the armor of God challenge coin ministry. Over time I have learned to move when the Holy Spirit says move. If He says turn around and go back to that person and talk to them, I turn around. If he says run down that person in the airport, I chase them down. If he says present an armor of God coin to the head of security in a Zambian type of TSA where they are searching your bags and your person, I present the coin. Like Zemke says, it is all about the TR’s relationship with God, and less about the organization they might serve.
Overall, I like the book and see many parallel principles, practices, and theologies. Therefore, I will add Zemke to my working bibliography. Finally, I will strive to be a tempered radical armor bearer who will continue to guide and provide safe spaces for believers to discover Christ as their defense against evil.