The Case for Gradualism

November 24, 2013 — 3 Comments

My Facebook news feed recently captured several images of gas pump prices. Ubiquitous posts of ubiquitous subjects are nothing new to social media images. Purchasing gas below $3 per gallon, however, was worthy of a little celebration. So I clicked like.

I’m not old (relatively). But I do remember buying hard copies of music in brick-and-mortar stores. I can also remember buying gas below $1 per gallon—back in the days when maps were folded in the glove compartment. I miss the gas prices. I don’t miss the origami madness of refolding the map.

It was not so long ago that $3 per gallon gas was quite unthinkable. In fact, back then, if we jumped overnight from $1 per gallon to $3 per gallon, the White House phone lines would have lit up. People would have revolted. We would have unfolded our maps and charted our way to Washington.

The gradual path of rising gas prices has been painful but—for the most part—tolerable. People actually buy the Prius now. No one is speculating about one-upping the Excursion. When change occurs in steps, people have time to let it settle in increments. Like climbing a thousand steps, you can get there with enough time.

Not every change can occur gradually. In the church, fires exist. And someone has to break the glass and douse the flames with an extinguishing agent. Quick changes make messes. But not every change requires a fire marshal leader. Many changes can occur gradually. And when gradual change is possible, one of the worst things you can do is create a fire to expedite the change. Fires can get out of hand, and they are always destructive. Additionally, most people don’t like to follow arsonists.

Even when the people of the church explicitly state they are ready for change, accomplishing bulk changes in rapid fashion is a like a shock to the body. People say they’re ready for the shock, but even when they’re prepared, it still hurts. The leader shocks the church. People shout. Then the leader wonders why they shouted.

“You said you were ready!”

“But that hurt!”

It happens all the time.

If you’re a leader, and you have the time to make the change, then take the time. Unfold your map, plot your course, charge up your Prius, and enjoy the journey. And don’t forget to post pictures to Instagram.


Sam Rainer

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Sam S. Rainer is the president of Rainer Research and the senior pastor of Stevens Street Baptist Church in Cookeville, TN.

3 responses to The Case for Gradualism

  1. I have to admit, I read your article out of curiosity to see what you meant by “gradualism.” Your point applies well to the small churches I serve. Slow solid growth and helping mostly older members to finish well have been a great blessing. Thanks.

  2. Thanks Bill! Helping the older generation finish well is a subject that does not get enough attention. You just gave me an idea for a future blog post.

    • You are welcome. Not wanting to be long winded, but the history behind the comment may be helpful. Not long ago I was becoming discouraged because the churches I serve had grown so slowly since beginning to help them over the last four years. And, few to none of middle age or younger attended.

      After preparing a sermon from 1 Kings 11 on the last days of Solomon, I came to realize the wonderful role these three rural churches are really playing. Scripture in no uncertain terms reveals how important it is to “finish well.” On the brink of extinction, these churches have survived and modestly grown. Hearing God’s Word, church fellowship and the support system these terrific saints have for one another is priceless. After all, who understands and cares about the older generation better than the “older generation?”

      I now leave such matters as age groups in God’s hands and have a much greater peace about the role I play in His plan. Blessings.

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