Change for Change’s Sake?
How do you know when your church needs to make some changes? And how does ‘change’ fit with being ‘faithful’? In this article Richard Underwood helps us to think about change and how it relates to church life.
Change is one of the perennial hot-potatoes in church life. Few of us find change easy, especially in the context of church where it gets bound up with issues of truth and gospel faithfulness. I remember a well-known convention speaker urging us to change anything; change everything.
Change for change’s sake.
He meant that if you create a culture of change, people are so used to it that they’re likely to be ready for the big cultural changes that are necessary from time to time to keep churches fresh and in touch with the communities around them. But, was he right? Change for change’s sake?
I think so. Or at least I think he was almost right. And here’s why:
Change in the Bible
The Bible contains a theology of change. It starts on the first page and ends on the last – from creation to new creation. We can argue endlessly about the physics of creation but the undeniable fact is that the process begins with nothing and ends with everything. That’s change on a cosmic scale.
Then we can detect change at the level of the biblical narrative. Think about how the cultural setting progresses from the pristine world of Eden, through the pre-exodus world of Abraham, through life with King David in the Promised Land, through exile, through the times of the Lord Jesus to the world of the Apostle Paul in which the gospel spreads and the church grows. The culture of the Bible keeps changing but the heartbeat of the Bible doesn’t; God keeps seeking and saving those who are lost.
And this brings us to the most striking, the most shocking aspect of all – the change that God undergoes in accomplishing the work of redemption. God became man. The Lord Jesus lay down his life on the cross in order that he might save us and bring us home. He didn’t cease for one moment to be what he had always been – the eternal Son of God – but he gladly became what he had never been before: a man. A man nailed to a cross. Jesus was willing to endure vast changes so that we might be saved.
Change: Option or Necessity?
So, what does this mean for us? One of the reasons that God has given us time is to facilitate change. In my life so far, God has given me my nearly sixty years so that I can change: from childhood to manhood; from immaturity to (a degree of) wisdom; and above all from death to life. And what he does for us personally, he does for us corporately. God wants to see churches adapt to meet the needs of the ever-changing world around us.
It’s the apostle Paul who demonstrates this kind of cultural dexterity in 1 Corinthians 9v19-23:
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
Like Paul, we do all this for the sake of the gospel. There are some things on which we have to be absolutely inflexible. The truths of Scripture are non-negotiable. But where the Scriptures are not dogmatic, we must be flexible.
I used to think that some things could change; I now realise that most things must change. Every church needs to change; the question is whether we resist it or are able to embrace it and allow it to shape us for good.
So, was the convention speaker right? “Change for change’s sake”?
It’s best to change for God’s sake.
So how do you make changes? Find out in the article Changing Church Culture.
Article image modified from a photo by Kevan Davis.