Our world is constantly changing and changing at an accelerating rate. In recent years we’ve seen Huge demographic, cultural, technological and political changes. Change can be fun and exciting but also bewildering, disruptive and frightening. Change means saying good bye to people, places, things and with that comes grief.
So, we often find ourselves craving somewhere that we can find consistency and certainty. Sometimes, we look for church to provide that.
There are two ways in which we can find a bit of that security. First of all, as suggested in the last post, when people commit to a local church there is a level of comfort and security when people commit to one another, to show love, care and loyalty to each other, to tell each other the truth. A church will give you a dependable family that will stick with you through thick and thin.
Secondly,and more importantly, church provides it when it commits to faithful Gospel preaching. There will be a constant anchor in the one true rock.
However, we often end up looking for more than that from our local church and when we do, things start to go wrong. We expect the church to provide security by being the familiar place where things don’t change.
We can’t expect that for three reasons.
1. The biggest change that we will hopefully experience in church life should be seeing new people coming along, hearing the Gospel, putting their faith in Christ, joining as members and using their gifts. At Bearwood Chapel, I would say that about 60% of those involved were not there 6 or 7 years ago. We also have new people leading worship, preaching, helping at clubs, welcoming, playing instruments, looking after the kids. We should be expecting new people to join the leadership team.
Sometimes the change will just mean that there are different people to get to know. We may feel that we no longer know everyone. We may struggle to keep up with new names. However sometimes this change will bring other changes. For example in our case it means a more ethnically diverse church. It also means that people are coming who have a lot of challenging issues and need a lot of discipleship. This adds to the sense that church feels messy.
2. A church that does not change is in effect creating it’s own culture and traditions which is different both to the culture in which it is placed and to Scripture. We create obstacles to people hearing the Gospel because we ask them to time travel before they can respond.
3. A church that does not change is probably not responding to the needs that come with growth. For example, in 2012, we had to make a decision. How were we to respond to a building that had reached capacity. We chose to change by adding a service. In time additional congregations have ckme and so we’ve had to change our leadership structures and styles.
So, how do we cope when the church itself is changing? What do we do when everything feels all at sea?
Well, on one level, the answer is simple. Cling to Jesus and the Gospel. Depend only on the one who does not change. Find your security and peace in him. That’s certainly true and I’ve said it often. However, I also think that God does provide us with helpful practical means not only to survive but also thrive and be fruitful in the midst of change. Here are some suggestions.
1. You stand a greater chance of living with change if you share in the overall direction of travel. So first of all, leaders have a responsibility to clearly communicate a vision and mission for the local church. This isn’t about grandiose statements. Rather our mission is to proclaim the Gospel in our geographical all, cultural and time context. Secondly, it is good for all church members to take time to understand this and seek to share in it. This means taking time to listen, talk, as, questions and most importantly to pray.
2. The second suggestion link closely to the first. A healthy church’s direction of travel will be shaped by the mission field. So we have made decisions as a church has that have stretched us but the main driving force for them is that we see a desperately needy harvest field. For quite a few people, lights got switched on when they saw for themseves the huge and diverse need around us. Get out and about in your community, look, listen, see the type of people around you. Talk to them, stop at shops, speak to your neighbours. Think about your own friends, family and colleagues. What will it take to reach them. What would it be like to be sat at communion passing the bread and wine to them. Pray for your community.
3. Take time to list out the positive things that are happening in your church family. So often we talk about what we struggle with and what frustrates us. That’s natural. However, we can then become very discouraged. Think of the examples of people coming in, hearing the Gospel and believing. Observe people discovering and using their gifts. Cultivate a Spirit of thankfulness. Learning to see is so important because we can often miss seeing what is happening. We see what is missing, what would have lost and we don’t see what we have gained.
4. Àcknowledge grief. Change does mean loss. Sometimes the loss could have been avoided, we need to acknowledge where mistakes have been made. However, sometimes the loss is not necessarily bad, it’s just a factor of change. But if we don’t acknowledge loss and the resulting grief we are pretending to live in a bubble. Griffiths is best acknowledged. A changing church will say goodbye to some people who are went out on mission. A changing church that is growing will mean that we don’t have the same contact with everyone that we used to. Singing new songs means that some older all loved favourites get dropped. Changes to a building or a move of site means a loss of familiarity.
5. Keep healthy accountable friendships. You can’t know everyone in the church in the same way or at the same level. So make the effort to know a few people well. When you do this, it removes the guilt to keep up with everyone that often makes change and growth overwhelming, A good starting point will be your small group (home/cell/growth group). Personally I think there is benefit in keeping these groups reasonably stable. It does not mean that they are frozen, healthy small groups will change, grow and add new members. However, I think the rate of change can happen at a now manageable pace in the small group. It is easy for the group to absorb one or two new members and get to know the. Look for opportunity is outside of Bible study time to meet, do things together etc.
4. Identify those points of routine within your own life. In other words, part of discipleship will nclude learning disciplines that will bring order in our chaos, create routines especially around, prayer, Bible reading, work, rest and family time.
5. Learn to appreciate the routines and rhythms within church life. This includes things like communion, a regular and timeless fixture in the church calendar. I also think, that this means change in church life shouldn’t mean that every week is different. There will be a routine, familiar songs, order and pattern. We don’t need to rip up the service sheet and try to be innovative every week.
And coming back to the start, the faithful constant in church life should be the Gospel. Packaging may change but the message at the heart does not.