To Change or Not to Change, Part 1

Posted on November 29, 2016


William Shakespeare of course put the phrase into English coinage a lot more eloquently than me:

To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune, Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,

That was Hamlet’s soliloquy in the play Hamlet. I have borrowed it because it describes a dilemma almost perfectly, which is “a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two or more alternatives, especially equally undesirable ones.”

Leaving Hamlet’s problem aside, my interest is based on the frequent decision people over a certain age—let’s say forties or fifties for starters—have to make on either preserving the way we always did things, or changing to accommodate to present standards.

The issue was very sharply presented in an interesting article in an online magazine—Outreach– devoted to Christian ministry. The title was “8 Reasons Many Bible Belt Churches are in Trouble.”

I have noticed a dwindling in the number of people in older, let’s say, traditional churches, and a huge spike in the newer Evangelical churches. Some of the reasons offered in this article for this decline are largely based on a general unwillingness to change. They are:

  1. Old church leaders and congregations are often angered when someone suggests they make methodological or stylistic changes.
  2. They have many “church rules,” all the way from the attire worn on Sunday, or times of worship, to “inconsequential polity issues.” They do things like they did 40 years ago, and wonder why those on the outside are not interested in their churches.
  3. They have leaders who have never led in a highly unchurched mission field. Birmingham and Nashville are looking more like Spokane and Seattle.
  4. They confuse tradition with truth, a “dangerous reality” in which church members equate biblical teachings with some of the bylaws and processes of the church.
  5. They do outreach the way they’ve always done it.

And the list goes on, from conflicted leaders who want the old church back but can’t understand why and how things have changed so much, to being too slow to respond, and having facilities that don’t meet modern needs.

I’m not picking on any segment of the Christian church, but only using the challenge of changing or not changing in a changing world.

In my world as a teacher for example, I’ve seen radical changes in how we learn.

Where we once all were in classrooms, now we often only interact online, sitting in front of computer screens or iPads, perhaps listening to a “talking head,” or watching videos, images, narrative scrolling across the screen, having little contact between student and instructor. Socrates would not understand this way of learning.

When I do have a “face to face” class, the students come in, plug in their ear buds, open their laptops, and even occasionally look at the Power Point Presentation as I unwind the story.

My students always expect Power Point Presentations with live connectivity to sites that enhance my presentation.

I haven’t handed out a typed syllabus in years. It’s all online in the latest program used by the University, Blackboard Learn. They can download all my presentations and requirements and print them themselves.

Shoot, they don’t even have to come to class, an old-fashioned technique at best in today’s world. All my lectures are recorded on an app called Tegrity and students can listen to them whenever they get a few moments between texting and tweeting.

I have had, essentially, to reinvent my old graduate student and young assistant professor of almost a half century ago into a tech savvy dispenser of the social media equivalent of teaching.

And I’m always behind the eight ball of technology. I don’t do Instagram, Tweets, or Facebook. In some ways, I am the proverbial troglodyte in the classroom, like an old fashioned pastor or minister in his ceremonial threads speaking to an aging congregation, dressed appropriately, in a half-empty or nearly empty church.

On the other hand, when I go to “modern” church these days I have to pull my shirttail out so as not to appear too formal!

Where are we going with this?

My deep suspicion is that not everything old needs to be discarded for the new. The question then becomes, what is best to keep, and what is best to throw away? Tune in next week for “breaking news” from the past.

Published as “A Dilemma: Choosing Whether to Change” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016