Eating the Elephant (or Gator) Too Fast

Sam Rainer

March 4, 2008

How do you eat an elephant (or a gator for that matter)? One bite at a time. With that being said, I simply cannot resist sharing this story from Miami with you.

By Times Staff Writer
Published October 6, 2005
MIAMI – Talk about biting off more than you can chew.

A 13-foot Burmese python tried to swallow a 6-foot alligator in Everglades National Park – and exploded.

Scientists stumbled on the gory remains last week after a helicopter pilot spotted the carcasses. The gator’s tail and hind legs were protruding from the python’s ruptured gut, the two bodies locked together so tightly that it was almost hard to make out which was which.

If the python got a good grip on the alligator before the alligator got a good grip on him, he could win,” said Frank Mazzotti, a University of Florida wildlife professor who is an expert on gators and other reptiles.

Mazzotti thinks that as the gator was being swallowed, it clawed at the python’s stomach, making the snake burst.

At the sake of being dispiriting (or sounding morbid), I do see several ministry parallels in this story. What looks like a grand idea from the onset can quickly choke a church. As pastor, I’ve made my mistakes in trying to take an established church to the next level too quickly. Even when people desire to change, which is the case at my church, too much too fast can shock the system.

But one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in the ministry occurs after change. The change itself is many times not the greatest problem, but rather trying to move too quickly to the next item on the pastoral agenda. In other words, you’ve got to let the change settle into the church culture before moving on to something else.

We pastors think about the change, mull over the details, write up strategic plans, and go through a variety of “what if” analyses. The process can be a year in the making for the staff before the church even sees the plan. Once it’s implemented we’re ready to move on to the next great idea, but the church needs to “chew on it” for a little while before they buy in and accept the change into the culture of the church.

So take your time, have a long-term vision for your church. Plan on a long-term tenure. And eat the gator one bite at a time. The church will fight back if you move from one change to the next too fast. And trying to swallow the entire agenda in one bite will only explode in your face and cause a huge mess in the church (but hopefully not on the carpet, which needs to be replaced anyway…blue or green anyone?).

2 comments on “Eating the Elephant (or Gator) Too Fast”

  1. Jennifer S. says:

    I think it’s also crucial to walk through what it is you’re wanting to change with the congregation and why. If there are changes that you, as pastor, feel would be most effective and beneficial to the life of the church, I’ve seen pastors in the past incorporate some of the “why” behind the change into their preaching/teaching.

  2. Sam Rainer says:

    Yes, Jennifer, I agree. Leaders in the church must be overly transparent.

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