by Paul Vallee.

As you’ve surely noticed, change is not always good, nor desired. There are both positive and negative aspects to change. For example, when we notice spiritual deterioration, we are right to resist the changes in values that contributed to the decline.

The North American church is facing a ministry value that says, “Innovation will triumph over tradition, and answers to our problems are to be found in the future, not the past” (Skye Jethani, “Rethinking Tomorrowland,” Winter 2005 issue of Leadership Journal). The problem with looking solely to new innovations for our answers is that it “has led to a church that has innovated at a frenzied pace by re-engineering worship styles, new forms of community, and new methods of outreach. This pursuit of the ‘new’ is exhilarating for a while. But trying to keep pace with cultural trends is both risky and expensive.”

It also means we are pursuing what is often strictly a sociological approach in order to be relevant, rather than seeking what God thinks is important. Changes in the church need to be consistent with biblical values, regardless of what culture says.

But this does not mean that God is automatically anti-innovation. In fact, he himself orchestrates times of change. It was in the fullness of time that God sent his Son, to change the first covenant to a new covenant with humanity. As the writer of the book of Hebrews points out, it wasn’t that the first covenant was bad; it just didn’t change the participants. Salvation could only come through Christ and his once-for-all sacrifice. And as you might expect, this new message of the kingdom of God though the Son of God met both acceptance and resistance.

Part of his message, by the way, was about repentance, which is a wonderful gift from God. It is really a state of change. It means changing our minds and coming into agreement with God.

The very nature of the life of faith involves change. Abram was called to go to a place he had never seen. Like Abram, we are all on a journey with God. If we are to grow, we will face constant challenges and need to redefine ourselves. The early church certainly faced its change points. What began as a Jewish church soon moved into the Gentile world. It was not without struggle that the church accepted the Gentiles solely through faith in Christ alone. The book of Acts spends most of a full chapter (15) describing the council where this was hammered out.

God’s message is unchanging, but how we apply it to our cultural contexts may force us to serve others differently. The communities we serve are constantly changing; so are the life issues that people face today. Many successful ministries of yesterday originated to meet specific cultural conditions. The Sunday school movement began in the nineteenth century when children, exploited for cheap labor in the factories of the Industrial Revolution, needed to be taught to read so they could know the Bible. It modified itself in the twentieth century to give all children a strong, biblically based education. It became a tool for child evangelism among all classes, not just the poor.

Today we are having to reinvent Sunday school again, as it gets harder and harder to find committed and qualified teachers who will give 45 or 50 Sunday mornings a year to a small class of children. We are therefore developing supplemental means of ministry to children.

This is just one illustration of the fact that we must be open to change for the right reasons. Life itself demands it, whether we want to or not. God desires for us to grow and develop, not only as individuals, but also as communities of faith.

Why is change so hard for us? Change requires effort. Change drags us into the unknown. Change means we lose a measure of control. A higher level of trust has to be demonstrated toward God and others. With each change, something is gained, but also something is lost.

Therefore, when considering change, here are three questions we need to ask ourselves:
1. Is there a genuine need for change?
2. Is the suggested change consistent with biblical values?
3. How will we help others take ownership of the change? What processes will we use?

Correct and thoughtful answers to these questions will bring us change for the better. And that kind of change is inevitable if we are to continue growing into the people and communities of faith God is calling us to be.

Paul Vallee is senior pastor of Living Stones Church in Red Deer, Alberta.

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