I grew up in the Church of the Nazarene, just like many of you. I graduated from Southern Nazarene University (SNU), and was on the faculty at Olivet Nazarene University (ONU) and Northwest Nazarene University. Presently, I serve on the foundation boards of ONU and SNU.
For over 20 years, I have not been a member of the Church of the Nazarene. Trust me, it is complicated, but I still have many contacts and friends within the church. My family has been influenced deeply by the denomination, and I have no doubt that the success I have enjoyed in life is in large part due to the influence of Nazarenes. Because of this, I have a deep love for the Church of the Nazarene.
Nazarenes have just celebrated their Centennial anniversary. What a wonderful blessing! But this also means that the church as an organization is 100 years old. Most 100-year-old people suffer from arthritis, stiffness, rigidity, loss of memory, loss of sight, loss of hearing, and the list goes on. Organizations pretty much do the same. It is hard to change when you are 100. Truth is, organizations aren't all that interested in changing.
Churches are particularly resistant to change. While admittedly this is a complex subject, two main causes are apparent.
The first is theological. Since God does not change—He is the same yesterday, today, and forever—why does the church need to change?
Secondly, over the years millions of members have put their heart, money, families, and love into the Church of the Nazarene, resulting in a strong sense of ownership. While acknowledging that the Church belongs to God, it is still a human organization with all that implies.
In the years I worked for the Amoco and BP oil companies, I would go to Durango, Colorado, for employee dinners. Soon enough, they would tell me what was wrong with the company-why it did not function as it should. Guess what? They blamed those in Denver to whom they reported. Go to Denver, and what did they say? Well, the fault actually lay with the folks in Houston to whom they reported. According to Houston, the problem was really in Chicago, at the headquarters where I worked. And of course at the company headquarters, we assumed the problem lay in the field.
Throughout the company, the problem was being traced to somebody else. Not I, no, not I!
The reality is that the only person you can change is you. Assuming only others, not you, need to change means no one does anything about it. Now put the Church of the Nazarene equivalent organizational units into the story, and you get the idea. Real change begins with you. Just as Christ changes hearts and minds one person at a time, change comes one person at a time. It takes courage and persistence.
My perception of the present reality is that the Church of the Nazarene has a wonderful past and has touched many lives, including mine. But at 100 years old, there is not much you can do about the past. So what does the future look like? I can see two possible futures. In one everyone else needs to change. Sort of business as usual. We become stiff, stuck, lack insight, and are resistant to change. The other future is tough. It starts with recognition that the Church of the Nazarene really belongs to God—it is not yours or mine.
I am the one who needs to change. I am the one who needs to let go or take hold of something. It is not always someone else who needs to change. Here are four areas to consider:
Stand Down. Some need to stand down from doing something they have been doing for a long time out of duty, habit, or possessiveness. It might be said, "Well, no one else will do it." Of course no one will do it, because you have had the position so long no one else would dare step up. Read 1 Kings 19, and focus on the moment when Elijah was at the end of his rope. God instructed him to go out and anoint younger men.
Stand Up. Some need to stop sitting on the bench, pull some weight, and be willing to suffer for the Kingdom. Get involved. Throw yourself into the work wholeheartedly.
Rethink. The Church of the Nazarene has a wonderful educational system. Fifty-seven Nazarene colleges exist around the world, but from what I can see they all operate as independent units. Think of the opportunities to decrease costs and competition while increasing cooperation, effectiveness, and reputation. For any of this to happen, something has to change, and it has to begin with someone, maybe even you.
Internationalize. I worked for Amoco, a U.S. company that just happened to have many international operations, and I also worked for BP, an international company that just happened to be located in London, England. There was a world of difference between those two situations. When I was with the International Church of the Nazarene's Global Ministry Team of department leaders last fall, as dedicated, competent, and committed as they are, they did not look very much like the international team I used to manage.
My prayer is that God will bless the Church of the Nazarene abundantly, that his tender mercies, new every morning, will be poured out on the church, and that she will continue to be saturated with His showers of blessing.
Walter R. Quanstrom is the retired group vice president of BP, p.l.c. He has served as a member of the foundation board at Olivet Nazarene University and Southern Nazarene University.
Holiness Today, Jan/Feb 2009