WHO MOVED MY CHEESE?

Years ago when we were beginning to transition from standard church into home church I came across the book Who Moved My Cheese? by Dr Spencer Johnson, not a Christian book but widely used in business to help move people out of old mindsets into new ways of thinking. The book is an amusing and enlightening story of two mice-sized characters, Hem and Haw, who live in a maze and look for cheese to nourish them and make them happy. In the story Hem and Haw find a cheese station that seems to satisfy all their needs. “This is great”, Hem says, “There’s enough cheese here to last us for ever”. They felt happy and successful and began to regard the cheese as their cheese. It was such a large store of cheese that they eventually move their homes to be close to it and build a social life around it. One day however they arrive to find that the cheese has moved and the story revolves around their reaction to change. From Hem – “Who moved my cheese? I’m not going anywhere until they put it back the way it was!” – to Haw – “Maybe it won’t come back the way it was. Perhaps we should venture out into the maze and find a different supply”.

We are all creatures of habit and the Bible is full of examples of the new becoming old but a reluctance to move on. One example is the reaction to Zechariah, the father of John, when asked what the name of his son was to be. Zechariah had just been through a nine-month lockdown, a learning curve in preparation to be the father who would speak into the life of a son who would prepare the way for a huge change and point to One who would initiate those changes. Zechariah’s job as a priest was to disappear, the temple was to become a table, the Sabbath was to become an everyday Presence. When Zechariah announces that his son is to be called John, the reaction of his relatives and friends is, “But we’ve never had a John, this is outside the norm. Stick to what we’ve always done, Zech“. Perhaps Zechariah’s nine months of being shut up in silence was so that he would listen. And come out of the lockdown with a new paradigm, a new vision, able now to nurture and prepare his child of destiny.

We too are starting to come out of a lockdown. We are just starting to come out of a huge change that has affected the way Christians meet all around the globe. The church world-wide has had to not only learn new ways to connect, with Zoom and YouTube becoming second nature, but has been given an oppor-tunity to think hard about the future. The cheese we were so comfortable with has moved. Even the Maze has changed. How we come out of this will depend on whether we simply go back to the way we were, or we discover new ways to be the church in a new environment.

One example is Nicky Gumbel, the founder of Alpha, who in a recent interview shared the change that he has gone through in his thinking regarding online church. Recently he launched Alpha Online alongside the normal Alpha meetings. What he discovered was that some churches that ran Alpha Online gathered a larger participation than those who were gathering around meals. (see Josh Daffern’s article on page 4 of Oikos Australia Magazine)

Other churches have discovered that connecting over Zoom has given their members an opportunity to have an input that the front-led Sunday service didn’t allow, opportunity to throw out questions, share experiences. Many have discovered that though their building has shut down, their church has not! That indeed the saints can connect and have done so in refreshingly new ways. Prayer-walking in twos, reaching out on the phone, connecting with people they haven’t talked to for a while. Not all have retreated into, “This is the end of the world. We need Jesus to come back tonight!”

There is no doubt though that we are all looking forward to getting back to meeting face to face, not just with our fellow Christians but also with people who need a hug (or at least an elbow bump). The question is do we just go back to the norm, having learned little in lockdown or do we come out like Zechariah, with a new vision. Or like Haw, ready to explore some different ways?

The church has often had a crisis that move them out and on. The persecution in Jerusalem caused the church to spread to Samaria and beyond. Persecution in Europe caused the Pilgrims to move to America. The Maoist persecution of the church in China caused them to go underground and grow. The Church of Jesus cannot be shut down, even by a pandemic. Who knows how this pandemic will be used by God for his good and for a new thrust of the gospel? Maybe before we rush out to put the chairs back as they were it’s not too late to do some listening. 

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