I would be lost without my phone.
There, I’ve said it. I’ve admitted the rather unsettling truth: I would be lost without my smartphone. It gives me access to my calendar, contacts, photos, emails, many of my work files, friends, and so much more. My phone has several translations of the Bible and sends me scriptures. It reminds me to set up chairs for the meeting and to ask my friend how her doctor’s appointment went. It tracks my runs and gives me driving directions, supporting my geographically challenged brain with a map that is always at hand. “OK Google… set a reminder for 4:30 PM…bring piano books.” “OK Google…read my calendar for today.” “OK Google…send a text message to Magnificent Mike.” (Magnificent as a fitting way to differentiate my husband from all of the other Mikes in my contact list.)
My phone keeps me organized and a little bit sane. In case you’re wondering, it also makes calls. Imagine that! It accomplishes its original designer’s most basic intent. In one sense, the phone has changed dramatically in 150 years. In another sense, it still simply connects two people at a distance.
Ever since Alexander Graham Bell’s invention in the 1870s, phones have been breaking new ground. We see this in the figurative sense as they repeatedly revolutionize communication, create new ways of maintaining or developing relationships, and increase our efficiency (at least to a point). Phones broke new ground in the literal sense as holes were dug for telephone poles, wires were buried underground, and land was excavated for cell towers.
Phones are an obvious example of breaking new ground, but clearly not the only one. The breaking of new ground is also seen in our spiritual rebirth and transformation and evident in our life together as the body of Christ. Whether technical, spiritual, or relational, change is a given when breaking new ground. And change is complicated.
Change can be disorienting. After all, the phone I used 30 years ago was, in many ways, superior to the one I use now. It never got lost, never needed charging, and never went out of range. It was far less expensive and yet extremely reliable. And users could access every feature it possessed without consulting a teenager for help—a stark contrast to today’s smartphones.
Change can also be exciting! It can result in new advances, new connections, and new growth. The fact that 95% of Americans own a cell phone today suggests that this technology is indeed exciting. Yet the ambivalence remains. Many wonder about longer-term effects of cell phone use and grieve their overuse. We may long for days gone by even as we stretch into newness of life.
Whether disorienting or exciting or a dizzying mix of both, change is a given in God’s Kingdom. By our very acceptance of salvation, we are transformed, changed so substantially that it is as if we have been re-born as Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3. Our transformation is both a sign of new life (2 Corinthians 5:17) and an ongoing spiritual mandate (Romans 12:2). The revelation of the already/not-yet Kingdom of God repeatedly surprises us by looking different than we expected—from the desert wanderings of the Israelites to the shocking humility of Jesus and beyond. “What do we do, God? This isn’t working out like we anticipated! We have no road map for this version of your plan! Can’t you just do things in a way that fits within our expectations?” Too often, those expectations creep into our prayers, leaving us asking God to bring about our presupposed solutions rather than waiting upon God’s creative direction.
This excitement and apprehension around change describes LMC’s place at this moment in history. We had gotten fairly adept at being a conference of churches. It worked with current leadership structures, with ways of gathering together, with avenues for interacting with the wider church. As a conference, we knew who we were. And then change happened. Like water that flows and sometimes floods to unexpected places, bringing both new life and overwhelming mess, change has come. And change is still coming. “What do we do, God? This isn’t working out like we anticipated! We have no road map for this version of your plan! Can’t you just do things in a way that fits within our expectations?” We live between the comfort of predictability and the thick mud that remains after a flood. We stand in both awe at God’s unexpected growing of our fellowship but also hold the anxiety of using a road map in need of updating. The possibility of complacency and any temptation to become sedentary is diminished, but can we trust God to manage our anxiety and uncertainty as these rapid waters cut new paths? Like my phone, can LMC maintain its center—our core values, our missional vision, our commitment to the way of Christ doctrinally and ethically—even while being transformed from Lancaster Mennonite Conference to LMC, a fellowship of Anabaptist churches?
These waters swirl in many directions, resulting in more than two dozen signs of transformation in recent months. From new initiatives in youth and children’s ministries to a dramatic expansion of member churches outside recent geographical boundaries to changes in leadership structures, membership in Mennonite World Conference, and much more, the Board of Bishops, the Conference Executive Council, and LMC Staff experience celebration and struggle in the implications and execution of each change. If all of this leaves you feeling a little dizzy, you’re not alone. And your concern is not unwelcome. Sometimes a key to navigating change together is including the voices that say, “Whoa!” Those voices keep us from being swept blindly by the floodwaters and remind us of our roots. Tending the roots of our basic identity and purpose—the center— can help insure that new ground is broken in God-glorifying ways.
There is much I don’t understand about the groundbreaking technology in my smartphone. Fortunately, I have in-house tech support—teenagers. I need their fresh understanding to help me navigate what is new. As one who remembers the reliability of phones attached to walls, I pay attention to the core function of my phone, and I sometimes elect not to use new options that do not support that function. But the young people in my life at least help me see the options. They point out the possible benefits of things that—without their input—would leave me feeling overwhelmed. Blending intergenerational voices can help us maintain the connection to our foundational purpose while living into the blessing of change and newness.
In Isaiah 43, the Lord says, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” What was true then is true now—this newness is not our own. It is a mere marker on the renewing that is part of God’s ongoing redemptive plan. God is making everything new! The transformation of LMC is but one example of God’s ever newness. We may be struggling to discern who we are as LMC, but that struggle leads to a fruitful end as long as we remember Whose we are.
My phone is still a phone; it still connects two people at a distance. And while it’s true that I would be lost without it, that is nothing compared to the way I would be lost without Jesus. He guides me through every expected and unexpected change. As we witness the breaking of new ground in LMC, let us focus on our Original Designer, honoring God’s ever-newness while remaining rooted in the foundation on which that newness is built.