Appropriate Change

Any church that has a vision for reaching people must understand some things are going to change. Even for supportive people, this can be difficult…Therefore, it becomes incumbent for a healthy church to establish a theology of change—a biblical standard for how to approach transitions to help them discern which changes are appropriate and which ones aren’t...Here are five ways to encourage a healthy theology of change--

1. Define Who God Is and How He Interacts

One of the great truths of Scripture is that God is immutable. He does not change (Malachi 3:6; James 1:17; Hebrews 13:8). His very nature, along with His Word, His love, and His promises do not morph, evolve, or fail. The Lord is constant, dependable, and stable. Therefore we can trust Him. He is our rock and fortress.

Yet this great truth leads some to a false conclusion that God is therefore “anti-change.” If the Lord doesn’t change, then why should we? This becomes a convenient excuse for people to become set in their ways and resistant to anything new or different… But as we look into Scripture, we find that God is actually pro-change…Three times in the book of Isaiah alone the Lord speaks of doing “new things” (Isaiah 43:18-19). In the New Testament we read about a new law, new birth, new heaven, new earth, new life, new teaching, new creation, new command, new self, new Jerusalem, new name, new covenant, new regulations, new order, and a new way… We have to help the church understand the difference between God’s nature and His involvement with people…

2. Make a Clear Distinction Between Taste and Truth

A healthy theology of change makes a clear distinction between methods (which are always changing) and the message (which shouldn’t change). It defines and illustrates for the congregation what things are matters of liberty and what things are not…

Go all the way back to Jesus, and you’ll find part of the reason the Pharisees missed Christ is because He would not follow all of their man-made traditions. The Pharisees had blurred the line between tradition and truth to the point that they failed to see Jesus. If we don’t define the difference between issues of taste and truth, we are in danger of limiting our ability to effectively communicate the gospel to an ever-changing, ever-evolving world…

3. Be Relevant

Times change, as do preferences and styles. Being relevant is simply taking the message of the gospel and communicating it in a way that is applicable to that generation or society. Most missionaries get this. They realize that if they are going to a foreign country to serve God and they want to be effective, they need to learn the language and customs of the people…

Being relevant means that we grasp the age in which we live, and rather than holding on to the past, we evaluate the present culture in light of our calling and contextualize the gospel to more effectively reach the lost…

4. Name Your Islands

Part of the problem churches face is that many people are freaked out and emotionally unsettled by the speed and onslaught of an ever-changing world. Without even realizing it, they want to be able to walk into a church and find a stability zone. A place that doesn’t change. An environment that is consistent and reliable… because little else in their world appears to be…

In order to help people who are overwhelmed and to prevent them from hurting the church’s potential, we must proactively try to define our “stability zones.” We must determine what things besides the gospel message will not change. These things can be doctrinal beliefs, behaviors, or values. There is no right or wrong list. The main thing is that something is defined…

5. Develop a Culture of Experimentation

Sometimes you have to be willing to try something without the guarantee of success… Churches with a healthy theology of change almost always embrace a mindset that is comfortable with some measure of mistakes and failure. They take strategic risks. They try new things…

I’m not advocating recklessness or immature optimism. Nor am I suggesting that we shouldn’t be willing to wait on the Lord. We need to be prayerful. Strategic. Realistic. We must count the cost. Yet we also need to break out of the mold, follow our hearts, take a risk, and do something to try to further the gospel…

When leaders take the time to establish and teach a theology of change, they lay a foundation on which more acceptance, openness, and support for the new can be built. This frees the church to adjust traditions, initiatives, and programs without compromising truth. It serves to loosen the soil and create fertile bedding that promotes healthy growth.

--from Chapter 8 of Dirt Matters: The Foundation for a Healthy, Vibrant, and Effective Congregation

In two weeks, I will offer some insights from Chapter 9: “Perpetual Formation.”