Perhaps nothing is so destructive in a small-church setting as paralysis brought on by a fear of change.
My mother had many wonderful qualities that helped to shape my life in positive ways. For that I will be eternally grateful. Apart from my amazing wife, no one has had a greater influence on my spiritual life than my mother.
One quality that she didn’t have, however, was an openness to change. She knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, in her own mind at least, that the way in which church was done when she was a young adult was the way in which church should be done forever.
I remember a conversation that I had with her once about Bible translations. She explained to me that she thought it was not a good thing for everyone to bring a different translation of the Bible to church on a Sunday morning. Everyone should have the same translation and then when the scripture was read everyone was following the exact same text.
I pushed her a bit until she admitted that what she was really saying was that everyone should have a copy of the King James Bible and that all the newer translations should be tossed out. She wasn’t even open to the New King James. It wasn’t really scripture unless it had all the “thees” and “thous” in it. What had been good enough for more than four hundred years should be good enough for another four hundred years.
A sad take on church history
When I was in seminary, I had the privilege of studying under Dr. Ian Rennie. I used to sit in his class and marvel that anyone could have that much church history stored in his head. He seemed to know every detail of every event in the history of the church and especially the history of the church in Canada.
I share this to say that when he spoke, I considered it advisable to listen. There were a number of gems of wisdom that he dropped either in class or in conversation but perhaps the one that most affected my life came in one of those casual conversations.
He said to me that the history of the church consisted mostly of God doing amazing things through young men and women who were open to being used in new and exciting ways. God would change the world through these young people.
But then tragedy would strike. Those people whom God so powerfully used would get older and start to think that the only way that God worked was the way in which he had worked through them. Often they would oppose the next generation when they wanted to do things in new and innovative ways.
God is a God of constant change. He is not bound by history. He adjusts his methods as the world to which he is sending people changes. The message never changes but the methods of conveying that message have changed constantly through the centuries.
The reality of change
Nothing ever remains the same. There may be times when we would like nothing better than to stop the movement of time so that things remained exactly as they were at a specific moment but we all know that we can’t do that. Time moves on and with the movement of time comes change.
This is true of churches just as it is of every other part of life. As much as people might oppose change in a church, reality is that every church undergoes a continuous process of change.
New babies are born. Children grow up. Students graduate and leave home. Established families leave the church for a variety of reasons. New families start to attend. Leaders grow older. Pastors come and go. Change is constantly taking place.
When it comes right down to it, there is no such thing as the status quo unless we define the status quo as a state of constant change.
Preparing for change
I believe that church leaders should be in a state of constant growth. No one should become a leader within a church unless that person sees as part of his responsibility as a church leader a commitment to personal growth.
A pastor should never allow herself to stagnate. Stagnation in a leader occurs in the same way as stagnation in water occurs. It happens when there is not fresh water flowing into a pond. Stagnation in a pastor occurs when there is no new knowledge flowing into her life.
There are a few things that need to be non-negotiables in a leader’s job description. One of these should be study leave for every leader. This is especially true for pastors but I would suggest that every member of a leadership team should be required to read new books, attend seminars, and spend time with other leaders so that there is a fresh flow of ideas flowing through every leadership team.
At the top of my list of subjects that every leader should study is how to bring about change. Introducing change requires a lot of skill and leaders need to learn those skills.
There are some churches that simply resist all change but there are far more that would accept change if it was introduced in a skillful way. I don’t have space in this entry to go into what those skills are but I would suggest that every leader find a good book on the subject and read it.
A good place to start might be a book entitled Leading Through Change by Barney Wells, Martin Giese and Ron Klassen.
The most important change in the history of the world
Change is a constant in our world but some changes impact people more than others. The most significant change that ever took place was when God sent his Son into the world to pay the penalty for sin.
To do so would have necessitated a change within the Godhead. Father, Son and Holy Spirit had existed in perfect unity from before creation. I don’t begin to understand the details of how the persons of the Trinity relate but I do know that when the second member of the Trinity left heaven and became human it must have involved some change.
I am aware that an orthodox understanding of God includes a belief that he is unchanging. I am not denying this truth but having said that, I believe that change within the Godhead was part of God’s eternal plan.
Change must have taken place within the heavenly realms. Those spiritual beings who for all eternity had worshiped and served the Triune God must have experienced change when the Son took up an earthly existence.
Change certainly occurred within the Jewish religion. In the person of Jesus Christ all the Old Testament prophecies found fulfillment and a whole new religious structure was introduced.
The result of all that change was the salvation of the world and the formation of the church. Without that change we would still be in our sin, unforgiven and without hope for the future.
When God steps into history, change takes place.
Through the cross/resurrection event great change happened and we have been the beneficiaries of that change.
People need to put their fear of change aside because whenever God works change is part of what he does.