Effecting Change in a Church
I am in the midst of a searching for a new church, having relocated for work in California a few months ago. There are two churches that I am considering at this point. Both of them have great qualities, but both of them also have some components that I think could be even better. Consequently, I’ve been thinking about how I can possibly be a positive influence in whichever church I ultimately wind up at, God willing. With regards to creating positive change in a local church; it is important to show you love the church body, be humble and gracious in identifying issues, have biblical support for advocated changes, and be patient and persistent.
It is important to show you love the church body you are in before you even dare discuss changes to little or big components. How do you do this? Well, simply, you attend, be involved, and serve. If you are attending the church regularly and are involved in church ministries and other church goers’ lives, you convey you care for the local congregation and are committed to supporting it. It is also important to be serving in your local church. This shows you aren’t just a consumer Christian, looking to gain from those who serve but never giving back. Rather, through serving you show your desire to pour into the lives of others at your church. Additionally, you’re owning up to a key reason God gives spiritual gifts to his people – for the building up of the body.
“For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” – 1 Corinthians 12:4-7
If you fail to show you love your local church congregation before discussing change, you can come across as a self-absorbed person who is trying to change the church to fit your own preferences. That is good way to cause people to dismiss or resent you.
Arguably one of the most important components in effecting change is to be humble and gracious in identifying issues. Humility is key here. You must acknowledge that your perception of the problem may not be accurate; your opinion on or solution to the problem may not be the best one. Perhaps someone else knows the issue more deeply than you do and they have a better solution. Perhaps you are short-sighted and don’t perceive the issue as clearly as you should. Perhaps there isn’t actually an issue and it is all preference. It is important for us to humbly reflect over time on issues we perceive, be open to others’ opinions on the subject, and continually pray and ask God for wisdom is thinking through and discussing the subject. Second, it is key to be gracious in discussing perceived issues with others. Christians can often, and should, feel a sense of commitment to their local church congregation, to their church family. Christians’ commonality in Christ should create bonds that run deep. As a result, people often feel a sense of personal ownership and investment in their local church. You wouldn’t indiscriminately go around pointing out the problems in a friend’s family. How much more should we be gracious in identifying possible issues in our church family. As to how to be gracious in discussing perceived issues, I would recommend stating your observations humbly and why you believe there is something that can be improved upon. Also, be open to others’ insights on the subject.
“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” – Proverbs 12:15
“By insolence comes nothing but strife, but with those who take advice is wisdom.” – Proverbs 13:10
We also want to have biblical support in identifying church components we think can be improved. There are areas of church life where God has given us guiding principles, such as the structure and goal of preaching and the content of corporate worship. Other areas, such as the corporate worship style and frequency of communion, have room for personal preference. I would recommend that if you are identifying areas for change, there should be biblical support for the changes you’re advocating. If there is no biblical support, to whatever degree, for the changes you’re advocating for, perhaps you should reflect if these areas of concern are really just personal preference. Granted, for many Christians, our personal preferences are guided by our interpretation of biblical principles. With that in mind, make sure you are able to articulate the scriptural basis for the perceived issues and proposed solutions, and strive to be understanding of others’ preferences as well. It is Scripture which should challenge and convict believers. As such, we want the foundation for our proposed solutions to be rooted in Scripture, not just logic or human reasoning. The firmer Scripture is on a particular subject or church component, the firmer we can hold our opinions. The more open Scripture is on a particular subject or church component, the more open we should hold our opinions.
Finally, it is important to be persistent and patient. Realize that change doesn’t happen overnight. Just because you don’t see the changes you are hoping for quickly, doesn’t mean you should give up. If there is solid biblical rationale for the adjustments you believe should be made, then continue to love the church body, continue to be humble and gracious in addressing the issue, and patiently persist in helping the church body make those adjustments.
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” – Colossians 3:12-13
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” – Ephesians 4:1-3
Of course, this all exist within reason. If the vast majority of the church elders and ministry leaders don’t see the issues you see or don’t agree with the solutions, it is probably worth reevaluating the issues you think you see. Metaphorically speaking, if it stinks everywhere you go, the problem might be on the bottom of your shoe. However, if you do own up to the aforementioned recommendations on creating positive change, I think such a situation is unlikely. With reference to the verses in Ephesians quoted above, we also shouldn’t let our quest for change put the unity of the local church at risk. We must concurrently strive to promote church unity while also advocating for the adjustments we propose. If we advocate for our proposed adjustments with the aforementioned recommendations, I do believe we’ll be able to maintain or promote church unity throughout the process.
A local church body includes a dynamic combination of various church elders and deacons, ministry leaders, and those who serve in and attend ministries. With that mix of people, there are going to be different opinions on how different church components should function. Such a plurality of opinions shouldn’t hinder us from having our own. After all, should we not care to improve and see the bettering of those things we care for? As appropriate and needed, let us strive to create positive change in our local churches; doing so from a position of loving the church body, being humble and gracious, having biblical support, and being patient and persistent.