“You are now the leader and people are looking for you to make some major changes.” “Changes,” I asked? “Yeah, things need to be updated and improved on.” And then a litany of things was listed for me to change in the church that I grew up in and was now the pastor of. This “change” was couched in such a way that for me not to make the “necessary” changes that I would be perceived as a weak leader sort of a catch-22 situation. It was a very base appeal to my own personal ego and a beckoning to the nastiness of an unholy ambition that I have to keep restrained on a pretty routine basis.
Time passed and I did not change a thing except that we baptized people at the beginning of the Sunday night service instead of at the end. Everything else stayed the same.
The point of this whole blog is that sometimes those who are church leaders can be falsely wooed into making changes that will literally cripple and perhaps even split an already healthy congregation. Woe to the man who comes into an established congregation to serve as pastor and turns the place upside down with irrational changes. We don’t like change! So if we don’t like change, what makes us think that people will like sudden and drastic changes especially in their spiritual life?
I remember well a few years ago when the hospital where I worked went to computers for all sorts of record-keeping and so forth. I still remember the duress and struggles with some of the older employees as they tried to cope with the changes that had been suddenly flung on them. The difference between the radical changes that takes place in the workplace versus the church is that in the workplace they are being paid. We who are in ministry are working with a bunch of volunteers and whether we believe it or not we need every one of them.
More times than once I have watched from the outside looking in at places where new pastors went and destroyed churches because of their drastic and unreasonable changes in the outset. It was a train-wreck and when the guy was finally drummed out of town, the poor fellow who was incoming after the train-wreck had his work cut out for him trying to re-establish trust and confidence. Additionally it had a very negative impact on the man who had to leave and it also usually affected his family, especially his wife.
The prevailing mentalities that usually cause these fellows to make such drastic changes goes something like this:
We are going to have a harvest in this place. It has been a dead church long enough. We are going to have revival!
I am going to clean this place up! These people don’t know anything about holiness! Revival! Outreach! ____________!
Boy, that previous pastor was a real winner! He didn’t know his head from a hole in the ground and I have to fix all this incompetence he had going around here!
These people just don’t get it!
Those sorts of comments are quite telling about the messiah complex that has engulfed this man. Are there churches out there that fit the bill as described above? Absolutely! But I have also discovered that just as there are mean churches (Church Trouble Part 1 and Part 2)there are some mean pastors who are going to make the gate so narrow and the path so hard to find that only about 30 are going to be saved.
A little food for thought about changing too much too soon might be good for all of us. These thoughts are in no particular order of priority.
First, if you go into an existing church, the people there already have a mindset about what they want to do and what they want you to do. They probably did not get this mindset from the devil, they got it from the man who was there before you were. If he was a great man, your work is easy, just keep doing what he did. If he was a scoundrel, your work is cut out for you and of primary importance is for you to be flexible with the flow of things.
Secondly, the majority of people who come to church are not motivated to fight. Work with those. Inspire and challenge them to grow in their spiritual walk. Be a useful teacher, preacher, influencer to them. On the other hand, there will always be a couple of people whose primary purpose in life is making your life miserable. Their demands are unreasonable, their attitude is un-Christian, and they aren’t happy and don’t think anyone else ought to be happy either. Look at the small minority that the Lord has put in your life to make you better. Let their attitude sand you down into becoming an incredible example of a Christian. These people DO NOT make up the majority. They may be the money people but God can work on them with the authority of your prayers. Pray for them and watch God do some drastic things that you will stand in awe of. They will either get better or they will make their exit. Let me tell you what will happen to you when you do this, your disgust with them will turn in to a profound sorrow and compassion will grip you as you watch them struggle through life corrupting everything they come in contact with.
Thirdly, don’t change things too quickly (as in don’t change anything for a long time). Most changes that people try to make are usually in areas of secondary importance. Before it is over, a lot of blood has been spilled over something that has zero influence over the Gospel. If you want to change something, take your time. It took C. Everett Koop, the former Surgeon General, ten years to get Congress to go along with his idea of putting a warning label on all tobacco products and tobacco advertisements. But he persisted and it happened. Now we have the warnings on the packages but we also enjoy transit systems where passengers cannot smoke. We can eat in restaurants where we can enjoy a smoke-free environment. If you think it needs to change, take your time. Furthermore, if you are only going to be there for three to seven years, you probably ought to leave it alone. If you are not committed to being there for the rest of your life, you probably ought not to insist on such radical changes anyway. Just preach the Word and pray for them and love them and move on.
Fourth, consider what malpractice is. Far too often, we have a tendency to confine malpractice to the medical field. We think of negligent physicians who are incompetent and wound more than they heal. But there can be something called ministerial malpractice also. The easy out is that we cannot be sued. However there will be a day that the Lord will look squarely at us and ask us what we did with the church we were called to pastor (Hebrews 13:17). On that day, we will have to give an answer. Radical and unreasonable change is ministerial malpractice. As Warren Wiersbe wrote one time about a church battle caused by too much change, “It was witnessed by angels, applauded by demons, but is best left unrecorded among the saints.”
Fifthly, most change is motivated by some sort of emphasis on a program. Don’t put your trust in a program to change a church. Put your trust and confidence in the preached Word and the passionate prayers of the pastor and the church at large to accomplish long lasting spiritual change. Increasingly, it is clear that activities do more to suck the spiritual life out of people and it kills the faithful few who are called to do all the work while the spectators watch.
Sixthly, don’t change because of fads that attempt to drive a pastor toward so-called success. John R. W. Stott wrote in his book The Preachers Portrait, “The shameful cult of human personalities which tarnished the life of the first century Corinthian church still persists in Christendom, and a most improper and unbecoming regard is paid to some church leaders today.” Pastors who get caught up in the numbers game will in the end be destroyed by the numbers game. Chasing numbers is going to create a great angst in your preaching because you will have to aesthetically improve some areas of Scripture to fit our American mindset.
Sometimes we can get so caught up in changing in the maddened pursuit of numbers it will cause us to sell our calling for a mess of faddage. In the end, you will not have a church but you will have a crowd. For those who chase fads, they end up like dogs chasing their tails because there will be a new method out next year and the next year and the next year. It is the job of marketers to take your money and the only way to do that is to sell you something that is new and improved. Brother Harrell in Bridge City, Texas has told me multiple times that it’s hard to beat three songs, an offering, and a sermon. You might scoff at that but a whole lot of guys preach his sermons every year at camp-meetings all over the country and this coming Sunday, they will have a full house.
Seventh, when you do begin to make changes, don’t ever create a divide between young and old. If a man does that he will pit the generational groups in a battle against each other. This is a crime. 1st John creates the pattern of spiritual maturity and the older generation needs to be stalwarts and influence the younger generation in the right direction. When you create a rift between the old and the young, you are destroying God’s biblical pattern of growth. We need elders and youth working together!
I conclude with a quote from Thomas Jefferson which just makes good sense, “In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, swim with the current.”