Charles Somervill: People not quick to change

October 6, 2012

People not quick to change

With seasonal changes, I think of people changes. One of my favorite light-bulb questions is “How many church members does it take to change a light bulb?” The answer comes quickly: “CHANGE?!!”

Pastors quite naturally want to change the hearts and minds of their congregations. I used to think that change could be accomplished with one or two powerful messages – well, maybe three or four. But then I took some communication courses in attitude change, persuasion and social change. Many of these principles, in my opinion, are verified in scripture.

Change, as with the church light bulb, is usually very slow and resistant to persuasion. There are exceptions in which rapid change may come with traumatic events such as disasters, divorces and death. But usually it takes a long time. Lasting change is gradual and sometimes works best when people are unaware of it. If you want to make changes, it requires the following:

1. First of all, you should spend some quality time with people so that they might come to see you as believable or credible. Credibility is something people give you, not something you own from just being you. Whenever you speak on a controversial subject, you may gain a point or two, but you will also lose credibility. And it may be worth it! Jesus thought so, even at the risk of many people leaving (Matthew 6:66). The point here is to make sure your attempt at change is worth the loss of credibility and audience.

2. Good relationships with people form the basis of credibility and pave the way for change. If they like you and believe that your values are similar to theirs, then attitude adjustments on a particular issue are much easier. They are less likely to be “rubbed the wrong way.” Good interpersonal relationships may take some time, but it’s time well spent.

3. And finally, change may not be possible at all. People with very strong opinions on an issue have what communication studies call “a strong ego-involvement.” As the scripture says, “Hearing they do not hear and seeing they do not see. (Matthew 13:13-15)” If Jesus couldn’t change these hard-hearted folks, neither can you. Even if you’re right, don’t waste your time arguing with them. Use that time for a good night’s sleep!

Charles Somervill is pastor of Granbury’s First Presbyterian Church.

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