Admiral Jim Stockdale was the highest ranking United States military officer in the “Hanoi Hilton”, a prisoner-of-war camp in Vietnam. Many of you might be familiar with him. For eight years he was held captive. There he rallied the captive troops, he came up with codes to communicate with prisoners and even disfigured and beat himself with a stool so he could not be used as enemy propaganda. He was a war hero and is the founder of what Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, calls the Stockdale Paradox.
While talking with Admiral Stockdale, Collins realized that during his time in prison he had a certain coping strategy. Stockdale said, “I never lost faith in the end of the story, I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.” When Collins asked him who didn’t make it out he was shocked by the answer. Stockdale told him, “Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”
We as a denomination, as the United Methodist Church, have a lot to overcome. We are a church that has been stuck in the 50s and if the 1950s ever come back we will be ready. But as we wait for that to happen the world passes us by. To believe that the 1950s are coming back is like being the optimists in that POW camp. It is ignoring the reality around us. The Stockdale Paradox is to do two things at once. You have to “retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties AND confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
We have the faith. We have the hope. We know that no matter what happens in this world God wins. No matter how bad life gets there is always hope in our Savior Jesus Christ. But we also have to face the brutal facts. As a denomination we are suffering, but why? The truth is we have a ton of churches who don’t want to grow. They are happy with their little church, their little circle of friends, their little part of the world. What they don’t realize is that we are not called to be a little circle of friends. We are to be the church, the body of Christ. We are called to be God’s love. To keep churches from growing because of the personal desires is selfish and unbiblical. When we do that we are stepping in front of God and telling God we know better. This is a problem that our denomination is having all over this country and it will be a noose that will tighten as we time goes on.
We have to change to grow. We have to change how we do things because the world is changing how they do things. Our God stays the same but he doesn’t require us to do so.