You know how when you are driving through town, you get instructed by the road sign to drive at 40 miles per hour? It’s very frustrating when 5 minutes later those in charge of the road change their minds and tell you to drive at 30 miles per hour. Then to compound things you turn off onto a side street at they say “drive at 20.” Can’t they make their minds up?
Of course, we recognise that the problem is not that someone cannot make their mind up but that the advice changes as circumstances change. The reason it is 40 in one place and 30 in another is that there are different risks associated with speed such as a built up area, schools, a crossing, a nasty bend etc.
Advice changes. So, when a Government minister is asked today about working from home and says that the advice has changed so that people should start working from home again due to increasing COVID-19 infections, that should not surprise us. Now, we may have our own opinions on the wisdom of the guidance, the clarity of communication and the general competence of the Government but the reality was always going to be that the advice would change from time to time as the situation changed.
Now, this is true in other aspects of life, work, family, church. I remember when I first started in pastoral ministry, we would talk about a specific issue together. It wouldn’t be long before somebody would express the concern that we might set a precedent with our decision. My response was that we were not setting a precedent. We were making a decision at the time based on what we knew about scripture and what we knew about the situation. In fact, not only was the advice at that time not binding on any future pastoral situations, it would not prevent us from changing our advice in this situation if new information came to light.
Pastoral care and leadership are both about walking with people through changing situations and helping them through them. We give advice but we do so based on what we know at the time. This means we recognise both that the circumstances may change and that our finiteness and fallibility means that our knowledge and opinion might change too.