Surviving the Pain of Change, Part One

By Randy Sawyer

The word change strikes terror in the heart of every pastor, because even the most minuscule alteration in scheduling, programming, methodology or philosophy brings catastrophic reactions from a local congregation. The moment any attempt is made to modify some long-standing procedure or policy the accusations begin to fly. Anyone who dares to lead the charge of changecould face challenges to his competency, his character or even his Christianity.

That’s right, a person might even be de-christianized by his peers for the mere suggestion that something could be done a different way. Consequently, the leadership goes along to get along, while the church ministry is gradually locked in time warp, with the status quo providing the warmth and boredom necessary to rock everyone sound to sleep.

Change Is Painful

The truth is, change is painful. It forces us to stretch ourselves, to move out of the comfortable into the unknown, and to face the possibility of failure. Worst of all, it makes us vulnerable to the inevitable cries of the naysayers if we turn out to be wrong. And believe me some folks want you to fail just so they can tell you about it. So why bother?

Change Is Necessary

Why indeed? Because of the simple fact that if we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we’ve always gotten. You’ve heard that before. I’m not the first to say it. But it’s obvious and self-evident. What’s more, most of our churches don’t need to keep getting what they’re getting.We’re not winning souls, we’re not growing disciples, we’re not sending missionaries, and we’re not impacting our surroundings. We’re just not! So why would we want to keep getting what we’re getting?

Forgive me if this sounds a little critical, but it’s pretty clear that something needs to change in our churches and in our denomination. Now I would agree wholeheartedly that a big part of the answer to our present impasse is reformation and revival. Nothing short of a sweeping move of God is needed, and that within itself would transform our lives and ministries.

But that’s not the issue I’m addressing here. I did that, at least partially, last month in an article about spiritual growth and discipline. What I’m talking about here is more about methods modification than spiritual transformation. We all agree on the later, but not always on the former.

Change Is Inevitable

I would argue that methods do change. Even a simple glance at Church history reveals that programs and packaging are not constant. What works in one age may not work in another, and what produces results in one locale may not in the next.

Sometimes adjustments are necessitated by changes in community surroundings. Many inner city churches have died away because they refused to adjust their ministry after the mass exodus to suburbia. Many suburban churches, on the other hand, have missed great opportunities by failing to account for the needs of those moving in around them.

I know of one church that is persistent in its refusal to develop a Hispanic work, though they’re now surrounded by thousands of Latin-Americans. And I know of yet another that has dwindled to nearly nothing because their original congregation was comprised of emigrants from southern rural areas, but they have continually failed to adjust in order to attract the emerging indigenous population.

Sometimes the ministry modifications occur because of advancements in the culture at large. Just think of the opportunities that resulted from the development of the printing press. And all our churches have benefitted immensely from advances in heating and cooling, sound amplification, computer technology, transportation, and more recently, video enhancement and projection.

We might, and with good reason, continue to celebrate the old time religion, and periodically host a Camp Meetin’ in order to recapture the good ole days, but no one really wants to go backwards to the days of outhouses and the horse and buggy. Just let some well-meaning congregation try to build a work without certain expected conveniences, and see how many folks they attract.

Sometimes changes result from the development of methods and materials that offer a fresher approach to the church’s age-old mission. There is a veritable plethora of well-written, well-packaged and appealing educational material available today. Church leaders need not be personally innovative to energize their ministry with fresh material; they just have to stay informed.

Change Is Resisted

So what’s wrong? Why are so many churches still locked in the past? Because over time the method takes on the sanctity of the message, with the methodology considered an essential of the theology. Let’s face it; you know this has happened time and time again.

What was originally someone’s attempt at offering the church a fresh approach to ministry eventually becomes the litmus test of orthodoxy. Gradually, the method becomes the dividing line, with groups and even denominations developing around an approach or style. Then when another creative soul comes along with an attempt at offering the church something fresh and new and alive, the adherents of the old school are quick in their condemnation.

Each generation must minister in its day, and must be freed from the time warp that eventually kills any work. The innovations of today will be the old-dated methods of tomorrow. And Christian leaders of tomorrow will devise new ways of confronting the challenges they face. That’s the way it has always been. That’s the way it will always be. And if any church is to truly impact its surroundings, that’s the way it will have to be today. Change may be painful, but a failed ministry is more painful. So let’s keep on growing and stretching for the glory of God!

About the Writer:Randy Sawyer is a veteran pastor from North Carolina.

About the Writer:Randy Sawyer is a veteran pastor from North Carolina.