Pastor's Blog: Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

 |  Pastor's Blog  |  Dr. Doug Dortch

I doubt I’m the only pastor who’s ever been accused of being a “parrot head,” but I don’t know of many other pastors who have a deeper appreciation for the music of the legendary American country, folk, and rock fusion icon Jimmy Buffet than I. Part of it is because so many of his “island tunes” capture my love of the coastal lifestyle. But part of it is also because so many of the lyrics to his songs speak to our need as humans to learn how to accept both the happy and sad aspects of life as best we can.

Consider, for example, Buffet’s 1977 classic, “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes.” That song reflects the fact that nothing ever stays the same and we do well to learn how to go with the flow of transitions. Otherwise, we will consign ourselves to a life of never-ending exasperation, or as Buffet puts it: “With all of our running and all of our cunning, if we couldn’t laugh, we’d just all go insane.”   

I’ve always thought that laughter to be the missing ingredient in too many churches, which is why life in those churches too often devolves into exasperation, if not insanity. Fortunately, we laugh enough at MBBC to be able to handle the changes a healthy church like ours occasionally needs to make. Two such changes are on the horizon for our fellowship about which I need to make you aware as we move closer to the end of this year and the start of a new one.  

The first has to do with a revision to our Building Committee’s proposed design for changes to our church facilities. These changes seek to implement one of the “thumbnail proposals” or our Vision 2020 strategic plan – “We make ministry possible.” The objective of this proposal is to have facilities that inspire devotion, are innovative in design, and will enable us to have an even greater impact for Christ in the days ahead. Most of all, we are striving for functionality as we move into the 21st century. As I’ve said before, a change of this magnitude only happens every 25 years. Considering our last major project was in 2001, I’d say we’re due for changes of this sort.   

Consequently, the Building Committee will make the presentation of their redesign this Sunday, December 2, at 4:30 p.m. in Heritage Hall. This redesign reflects the input the Building Committee has received from the last congregational conversation, as well as previous presentations to key ministry groups, lay leadership, and the ministerial staff. The lay leadership and ministerial staff have seen this redesign and have offered their enthusiastic support of it. I hope you will join us for this second conversation as we look to move forward in the New Year toward making this aspect of our vision become a reality.   

The second change reflects a statement made during our last Building Committee presentation to the church which I found too substantive to ignore. The statement had to do with the logic of pondering a major project designed to facilitate fellowship and interaction when our present schedule worked against it. As I thought about our present schedule, I realized that most Sundays we are on a fairly frenetic pace. The transitions from traditional worship to Sunday Morning Bible Study to contemporary worship fail to offer the buffer times necessary to give people much time to chat.   

In response, I asked our Vision 2020 Implementation Team to give some thought to possible options in our Sunday Schedule that might help us create more fellowship time. They created a survey, which they then shared with several focus groups, along with lay leadership. A couple of clear viewpoints came to the surface. (1) There isn’t enough time between Sunday Morning Bible Study and worship in our present schedule, regardless of which worship service people attend; and (2) No one wants a new worship option that begins at 8:30 a.m. or ends after noon.   

So, the only path I could see was a move back to our old schedule of concurrent worship, preceded by an hour-long Bible Study period. You may remember that when I came, I pushed for a change from that schedule to the present one because of how as the new preacher, I wanted to preach to both congregations. While I still enjoy preaching in both settings, after seven years, the need for space in our schedule for fellowship opportunities far outweighs my preaching every service. Besides, for some time I’ve already been using other staff once a month at the contemporary service to give them opportunity to develop that important ministerial gift.   

Here, then, is the new schedule I’m proposing.  Sunday Morning Bible Study will begin at 9:15 a.m. and end at 10:15 a.m. We’ll have fifteen minutes of transition time and begin worship at 10:30 a.m., ending far before the noon hour. As far as preaching, I’ll preach the first three Sundays of the month at the traditional service and the last Sunday of the month at the contemporary service. At the contemporary service, Wayne will preach the first Sunday of the month, Ben the next Sunday, and Tim the third Sunday. Wayne and Ben will rotate Sundays at the traditional service when I am at the contemporary service. On the months when there are a fifth Sunday (March 31, which is during Spring Break, June 30, September 29, and December 29) we will have a combined service, which I think is an important aspect to the schedule that will keep us from fragmenting into two separate worship congregations.  

I think you see the benefits of this new schedule. We will have a more relaxed Sunday experience. People can come early for bagels and donuts in Heritage Hall and Sunday Morning Bible Study classes can have ample time for announcements and class concerns. We will have a buffer time for interaction between classes and smoother transitions to the worship experience. Lastly, we will no longer confuse guests, who often come into empty spaces wondering if they misread the start times for worship or come on a combined Sunday when worship has already taken place. These changes will be better for the vast majority of our church.   

We will begin the new schedule on Sunday, December 23 and continuing thereafter. I had thought about beginning the first of the year, but we had planned on the last two Sundays of the year as combined Sundays anyway, which would have made communication more difficult. I think it’s better to begin the schedule on one Sunday and keep it going, moving forward into the New Year.  

The reality of the change is that it’s not really that much of a change at all. The “latitude” of the change is about 30 minutes, but the “attitude” we stand to gain is much more significant. Granted, as with any change, there will be kinks that need to be worked out, but to this point we don’t see any show-stoppers ahead.  

My hope is that instead of seeing furrowed brows and hurried faces on Sunday mornings, we’ll see more smiles and hear more laughter. And in the process I anticipate that we’ll do much more than retain our sanity; I pray that with much less running and much less cunning, to borrow from another well-known church song, we will develop in an even stronger way the “ties that bind our hearts in Christian love.”   

"Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work. If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the person who falls and has no one to help him up! A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).