Change is one of the most controversial and divisive issues in the church, but it doesn’t have to be this way. A great deal of tension can be avoided when the members of churches understand that change is normal and without it, a church cannot stay healthy.
I recently preached a sermon on the parables of the unshrunk cloth and wineskins from Mark 2. I started the sermon with some principles we can glean from the parables before ending with the more profound truth about Christ at the heart of that passage.
One of the reasons to address this from the pulpit and through this blog is that right now, we aren’t proposing some massive change at HBC. The goal of many sermons, with most instruction, is to equip and prepare God’s people to follow Him in the future. That was and is my heart for our church- that we would be grounded in the Word and prepared to say yes to the Lord when the opportunity comes.
The following is a summary of the principles related to change in the church and some follow up to each.
1. When Christ is at the center of the church, eventually, some methods and traditions will change.
There comes a time in every church when things change for the sake of the future rather than at the expense of the future.
I have heard many times in my life how change spells the doom of the church. And I agree that some changes do spell doom for the church. But almost all of those changes are related to the teaching and application of the Word- the Gospel. Things like denying the Trinity, denying the authority of Scripture, affirming sin, or affirming other religions as true are examples.
But, there is a difference between changing what we believe and changing how we do something that helps us continue to be faithful to what we believe for the coming years and decades.
Again, I am not saying that there comes a time when a church should change what it believes or what it is teaching. That would only be true if what it was teaching was unbiblical.
There is a lag between implementing new methods and the results you are looking for.
In the education world, this is called the implementation dip. I think that in the Bible, it’s usually referred to as pruning.
This means it takes time to see the fruit of the changes that are being made.
Not every change in a church is aimed at the same result, but the sum of the changes should result in healthy growth.
Healthy growth includes spiritual maturity, evangelistic and mission increase, and a greater focus on the glory of God in the church, at home, and in the world. (Selflessness, sacrifice, multiplication, etc.)
When it comes to making changes:
- Everything in the church cannot be based on happiness
- Everything in the church cannot be based on numbers
- Everything in the church can be based on the gospel
2. Rigid refusal to make changes to stay in step with the Spirit will destroy a legacy and forsake the future.
A church can forsake the future by refusing to change when necessary for the continued advance of the gospel. When this happens, the past and the future are torn or destroyed.
I have spent my entire ministry serving in what you would call the traditional church. And throughout my ministry, I have been privileged to see the Lord bring life to struggling ministries or churches and extend the life of healthy churches.
Both the healthy church that looks forward, and the struggling church that can’t quit looking backward, there is a need to hold on to methods and traditions loosely while holding tightly to Christ and His Word.
The struggling church that always looks backward to the past will eventually tarnish the legacy of what was once good by dying a slow and painful death as a church.
The healthy church will one day be the struggling church if it can’t keep its eyes up on the Lord and make its decisions for the sake of the advancement of the gospel.
All of this to say, eventually, the traditions and methods in a Christ-centered church will change. Therefore, we must work to make sure our hearts and minds stay flexible so we can continue to be faithful.