How many people does it take a light bulb in church? Four. One to install it and three to reminisce about how good the old burnt out one was.
All joking aside… there is some truth to this joke. Are we as a church stagnant? Who is to blame for our prolonged lack of movement? Are we really doing everything right or in the best way possible… or are we just resistant to change?
We certainly fear change in the church. One of the most popular and commonly used phrases within the church is “we’ve never done it that way before.” Because… obviously the way we’ve always done it is the best way possible to accomplish the task. The word change has become a “new-age” curse or trigger word in the mouth of many within religious organizations all over the world. Why is it that it has become so off limits?
I personally have been warned many times throughout my ministry so far (I did start fairly young) to not be so “headstrong” or quick to rush into “relevance” or change. In fact, one of the first lessons I learned, the hard way, was that when entering into a new ministry you must avoid immediate big changes at all costs until the “honeymoon” wears off. Let’s face it… at first we must wear our “mittens” because we are indeed handling someone else’s “baby.”
If you are reading this and are envisioning me voicing all my rants about “tradition” please erase that from your mind and hear me out. Let’s think together here. Everyone likes routine. I’m the poster child for routine! I order the same dishes at the same restaurants every time I visit them. I make a list on the first day of every workweek and stick to it. But… in an age of constant “upgrades” and change in the social, political, technological, and work worlds I find it hard to believe that our church “traditions” or ways of doing things are never in need of updating.
Tradition does indeed have value and it runs deep. Comfort is exactly that… comfortable.
Change is hard. Change is often necessary. Let’s venture into this topic a little bit and see what happens…
- Some things never change.
Malachi 3:6 says,
For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.
I believe this first point is the most important point of all… some things NEVER change. Our hope of eternal life through Jesus Christ will never change. It is the same today, as it was yesterday and the same as it will be tomorrow, and for eternity. God’s love for us never changes. The Gospel does NOT change.
1 Samuel 15:29 says,
He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.”
In fact Romans 8:38-39 tells us of our security found in God’s steadfastness in the things that do not change. It says,
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
So… in the midst of changing times, methods, and techniques we can rest assured that the important things have stayed the same. In the midst of our “changing” we should build our foundation on the Gospel and promises of God that do NOT change. In fact, we can make the changes that need to be made because we are grounded in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
James 1:17 says,
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
- God is not afraid of change.
In 2014 Pope Francis said,
God is not afraid of new things. That is why he is continuously surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways.
Don’t we serve a God of change? Think of the salvation and change that occurred in Saul of Tarsus to make him into the man of God, Paul, that we know of today. Think about when you met Jesus… what changed? Hopefully everything.
We serve a God who calls us to change! Often we are called to repent and change our ways. Repentance without change is not repentance… it is just remorse.
Acts 2:38 says,
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Acts 3:19 says,
Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out.
Another huge example of change comes from a story of Jesus Himself. In John 14 scripture reveals to us a scene in which Jesus is talking with his disciples and preparing them for a change. All they had known in their ministry alongside Jesus was going to be different… Jesus was going to be physically gone. Crucified.
Like all of us good “church-folk” the disciples did not want things to change… some of us would say that they were scared or intimidated by the possibility of change. I mean… let’s face it; things were good when they were with Jesus. They most likely felt safe, they were in good fellowship with each other, and daily they got to sit at Jesus’ feet and be taught, as well as see Him perform miracles, signs, and wonders.
The disciples would not understand it at the time, but the change that was about to take place was going to change the world. It is because of this change that we have hope, guidance through the giving of the Holy Spirit, and much of Scripture itself! The disciples would venture out because of this change and spread the message of Jesus and the Gospel, the church would spread and take root. Without this change where would we be?
Albert Einstein defined insanity as:
Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
As a church are we insane? Our results will stay the same as long as our method does. Let’s face it… change is a good thing.
- Things were never as “good” as you remember.
Have you ever shuddered at the words, “back in the good ole days…”? So many of us like to dwell in the past. We like to glorify the ways things used to be. Having good memories of the past is great! But… those memories shouldn’t shackle down our future.
All of us like to remember the times when things were going well and the church was relevant and thriving, but the reality is that we mix our memories with our fantasies and the “good ole days” were never as “good” as we remember. Sure… sometimes things were working, but sometimes our stories are like a good fisherman’s tale. The fish keeps getting bigger and bigger.
There have always been problems and obstacles to overcome, but always looking or reverting back to the ways of the past isn’t going to solve the issues we face today. The world has changed… so why is our method the same?
We cannot allow our fantasies of “better times past” and our irrelevance to lead to our death. It is a death that is slow and agonizing, and definitely not glorifying to the Creator and Inventor of change… God. Invest in your future and create positive change!
- The mission never changes… but the field does.
All of us should agree on this point… times are changing and we have to change with the times in order to minister within them. We cannot be afraid of change.
In order to reach people in the 21st Century we need to make some changes, not changes to our message, we should never water down our message, but changes to how we get our message out there.
We are called to be “Fishers of Men” (Matthew 4:19) and like any good fisherman we must change our bait according to our surroundings, context, and goal. There isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” and with that mentality we aren’t going to get very far.
Just like overhead projectors and cassette tapes, some of the ways we are continually doing things are just outdated. Look for an upgrade!
- Change requires sacrifice.
Some of us may be resistant to change because of the work it entails. Change isn’t easy! Our routines get jacked up, our methods get tossed out, and we have to be constantly learning.
Even though I say all of this, I will also say… the work is worth the outcome.
Change takes an investment of time, money, and effort. No good thing comes without sacrifice. We are willing to sacrifice our money to buy the newest iPhone… so why are we so quick to clench our fists when we see an area that obviously needs improvement within our church? Sometimes our “improvements” may flop, and sometimes the things we do take a long time to complete. Never stop moving. Use God as your guide and head to the finish line… changing your route as needed.
- Don’t change for changes sake.
Lastly, after all of this thinking and talking on change it is important to note that we don’t need change for changes sake. There are a lot of churches that will change their worship style, lights, logos, names, sign, etc… to increase attendance, entertainment value, and marketing potential. We shouldn’t be changing just so we can seem modern and cool. Being on the “cutting-edge” isn’t always the best use of time and resources. Find what works for you, make it happen, and constantly be looking for areas to improve.
All of us may not be in the most “modern” church… but that shouldn’t be because we are fearful of change. When change is thought out, prayed about, and done for the good of the Gospel then it is beneficial and God-honoring.