Jan 04, 2023 | By the Rev. Steven Morton

Who knows whether he will not turn and relent?”  (Joel 2:14a)

The Washington Post, on Sunday, Dec. 11, 2022, in the midst of Advent, led off its Sunday Books section with an inquisitive, bold headline: “Can we still change each other’s minds?”

Within the first paragraph, the use of such words as isolated, bigoted and intractable quickly revealed a dubious, discouraging reply to that question!  For those of us in positions of leadership, however, I have a different hope. 

In my classes with honor students at West Chester University, we always highlighted flexibility as an important leadership quality.  A quotation sometimes attributed to John Maxwell—but sometimes to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and others as well—says this: “Be stubborn about the vision but flexible with your plan.” 

In this New Year 2023, will there be any important occasion that calls for you to change your mind? With another Christmas season in the rearview mirror, let’s not diminish the example of Mary’s new husband Joseph. 

“Joseph had made up his mind,” the Rev. Susan Priddy, pastor of Wesleyan Chapel UMC in Wilmington, N.C., reminds us. “Final decision. He was resolved to dismiss Mary quietly. Then in a dream, an angel of the Lord showed up and told him to think and act differently. Amazingly, Joseph woke up and did just what the angel said!”  (“Advent Devotions 2022,” Duke Divinity School)  

Think and act differently. Most of us attempt to emulate the strength and resolve of great leaders around us, and with good reason. But when our opinions coast toward being isolated, bigoted or intractable, suddenly we’ve been tossed off of the “great leaders” train.

A commitment to exercise flexibility is a challenging pursuit, yet noble…and crucial to the mission.  I know that some Christians are disturbed by, and go to great linguistic gymnastics to dispel (!), those candid biblical passages like Exodus 32:14 or Jonah 3:10, which say “God changed his mind” (NRSV)

But I find these scenes to be imaginative and refreshing.  Where in this New Year might you be called to the sometimes divine work of changing your mind?  Let’s make the pursuit of flexibility one of our most ardent resolutions here in 2023.   

Steve Morton is the EPA Conference’s Leadership Development Manager. His work focuses on EPA’s Pathways to Congregational Fruitfulness & Health initiative. Learn about Pathways.