We’re already moving into the third week of Advent, and I’d like to take a quick opportunity to reflect on some pretty amazing passage about John the Baptist taken from our Advent readings. They say:
A voice of one crying out in the desert:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
John the Baptist has a brief but incredibly daunting mission in the Gospels: to prepare the way for the Lord. In contemporary terms we would say John’s task was to be a “change agent.”
John preached the necessity of a complete cultural change in the approach to faith and religion if his contemporaries were going to be able to hear and receive the message of Christ (who in turn would change the world forever).
John’s “mission statement” is an important source of prayer and reflection for anyone working in their local parish or faith-based organization seeking to inspire and enact change. Change is a scary word, but it doesn’t have to be a dirty word. Blessed John Henry Newman said: “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”
That’s why it’s important we look to holy, faithful leaders who have gone before us, like John the Baptist, to give us a real picture of what and how this change will look like in our present context. Here are just four that really stick out in Scripture:
Change Requires Leadership
As much as people want change, it just can’t happen until leaders step up to the plate. To be a leader, John was willing to take risks and learn from others. Rick Warren often says, “Every leader is a learner.” John’s style of leadership was steeped in a life of study and prayer with the scriptures, in this case learning from the great prophet Isaiah.
Another thought- that John “hears a voice” implies that he is listening for one. In other words, be a leader who listens.
Change Requires Vision
Vision is a bold word, as it should be. Vision needs to be big enough to inspire people to move. The problem with a vision that is too bold; just one that’s unclear. John’s vision is right to the point, that all will “see the salvation of God.”
Change Requires a Direction
Vision inspires, but people cannot follow if you don’t know where you’re going. John came to make the winding roads straight. For John, repentance and baptism was the way to prepare for Jesus.
In a parish setting, having direction means clearly defining and communicating your strategies to your staff, ministers, or congregation. At Nativity, one example is our “Ministry Standards” that every minister agrees to follow ensuring consistent quality and commitment (even for volunteers). Develop measurable goals and standards for your ministry/program. This also makes it easier to re-evaluate or “change direction” if you get off track.
Change Requires Perseverance
Change is usually slow. Keep the vision in front of you at all times and be prepared for criticism. John is an example of perseverance to the end (Matthew 14). John never saw the full fruit of his mission, but 2,000 years later, we’re still talking about the change he inspires in our church.