As I have been reminded since being a grandfather, few like change when forced upon them -- including a baby with a stinky diaper! Even those who seem wired to relish novelty want to be involved in choosing it for themselves. So I've been wondering: why would the leaders of a local congregation what to change how they have been doing church for years? In this and the next couple posts, I'd like to suggest three reasons why church leaders might want to embrace change.
The first reason is simply that Jesus calls us to something more.
Have you ever gone swimming at the beach and had the experience of coming ashore only to discover that while frolicking in the surf you drifted quite some distance from your stuff on the shore? Many groups do the same thing over time. They start out with a clear identity and purpose. They go along for awhile -- maybe decades -- tending to the week-to-week, month-to-month challenges of being together. Then, when they step out of the regular grind to look back at where they began and take stock of where they are, they often realize that they have, usually without ever realizing it, drifted from their original mission.
When thinking about the leaders of your congregation, what would you say are their primary concerns?
- The primary concern in many congregations has become caring for our members. Jesus said that his disciples will be recognized by the love they have one for another (John 13:33-35), so obviously that's important. But is it really the main mission in which he invited his followers to join him?
- Another major concern in many congregations is maintaining our facilities. Certainly facilities need maintaining, but should that be at the heart of a congregation's life together or should the facilities be seen as instruments used by the congregation for accomplishing Jesus' mission?
- Yet another popular concern of people in their congregations is continuing our beloved traditions. The programs, events and ways of doing things that have been meaningful in the past can over time take on the weight of traditions that must be maintained. Nothing wrong with continuing living traditions. Still Jesus warned the traditionalists of his day that the new wine of God's activity is usually best served up in fresh wineskins (Matthew 9:17).
- Still another concern may become economic survival. While economic viability is a significant consideration, it is certainly not the primary concern of our Lord who taught us that “whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:25)
When some church leaders take stock of the primary concerns upon the altar of people's hearts in congregation, they may find a new trinity: membership care, facility maintenance and holding fast to the past. Other church leaders may discover their people hoping simply to survive. But Jesus calls us to so much more!
Jesus sends his disciples out to continue the mission on which God sent him into the world: bringing reconciliation and building God's Kingdom. (As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." John 20:21) Jesus asks us to be witnesses to what God is doing through him beginning with those closest to us then moving out to people increasingly further away and different from us (Acts 1:8). As we go, we are to make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them to obey what Jesus taught us (Matthew 28:19-20). And he taught us that the best summary of God's will is that we are to love God wholly and to love our neighbor (anyone in need) as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40).
Taken as a whole, Jesus calls his disciples -- Jesus commissions his church -- to be about the task of "making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world." And that's a whole lot more than caring for our own, maintaining our facilities, and clinging to how we have always done it . . . to say nothing about just surviving economically another year as a congregation. Hearing afresh Christ’s missional call is the best reason I can imagine for local congregations to be willing to change.
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Dr. Jeff Stiggins
The Office of Congregational Transformation