Change has become a polarizing word in ministry circles and churches. Some want so much change that you can never change fast enough to satisfy them. Some resist change so much that any change is viewed as the end of the world. The reality is that we are all creatures of habit to a certain degree. After all, I do take a shower, brush my teeth, shave, get dressed, make up my bed and eat breakfast everyday. However, as a Baptist pastor I fully realize the eternal difference between personal hygiene practices and the ministry programming of the local church.
The 1990s brought the winds of change in the local church with the contemporary church model. Music and worship styles began to change. The pastor's dress on Sunday morning changed (in some locales). Hymnals were on the way out and video projectors and screens were brought in with regularity. Some churches began to see some longtime ministry programs through their denomination be replaced with somewhat newer ministry programming that was from outside their denomination. The last five years have brought another round of changes in the local church ... Emergent. Missional. Liturgical. Contemporary worship which is really now the "new traditional." Modern worship. Gospel-centered. Radical. Denominational. Post-denominational. Non-denominational .... And the list goes on and on.
It all begs the question: When is change ever a good thing in the local church? We have all heard the declaration, "If we don't change we are going to die." It depends on what kind of change is needed. If something is going to die, then just changing the color of the carpet or the style of music will not revive it.
Let me first note a few reasons that are not change worthy:
- To accommodate any influential group in the church that is really just trying to hold it hostage for their personal preferences.
- To be trendy. Whatever it takes to reach people is what it is going to take to keep them.
- For the personal preferences of the pastor.
- Because a conference speaker or well-known pastor said it is what he would do.
- Because everyone else is doing it.
- Because a poll or survey says to.
I could list more, but you get the point. If we were to attempt change every time a new idea or program comes along or every time someone does not like something we are already doing, then we would live in a perpetual state of change for the sake of change. And therein lies the problem. Change for the sake of change and change that is disconnected from vision are unhelpful in the long run. Proverbs 29:18 teaches us, "Where there is no vision the people are unrestrained." Wholesale change is not necessarily what is always needed. But incremental change can be just as debilitating.
So, when is change good and right in the local church?
- When it is connected to the vision of the church. The church's unity should be built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ and strengthened by the church's vision for ministry and mission. This allows the church leadership to know when change is needed and it helps the church to better understand why the change is necessary. This is why it is more important for pastors to spend the early days and months in a pastorate making sure that the vision is established and communicated. If you start with change before vision then you are putting the cart before the horse.
- When it helps to better propagate the mission of the church. The mission of every local church should be to make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:18-20). With a clearly established mission and vision, a pastor can now lead for change in programming because the conversation and decision is about propagating the mission of the church. In this scenario, programming change is no longer change for the sake of change but change that helps the church fulfill its mission with better effectiveness.