"Help! I Hate Change!"
Pastor Ian recently wrote more about the transitions facing our church and he helped answer some of our questions! After all, change is always hard and confusing. He shares more about where our God is leading us.
Why is the church changing in these ways, what's the rationale and, why now?
I think there are three kinds of changes to which everyone at GBC is having to adjust:
1. Stuff we started.
Whenever a new pastor comes to a church there are changes that whether we realise it or not, have actually been initiated by the members themselves. These changes are a result of natural communication, personality or leadership differences from one pastor to the next. Most of us get comfortable with what we had, and whenever we invite a new pastor to come we must then adjust to his communication style and his God-given leadership shape. For example, the old shirts that Sherri wants me to throw out, I not only want to keep, but want to keep wearing. They’re comfortable. She has bought me some new shirts, and though I initially resisted them because 'they feel different' I eventually tried them out and am surprised by how well I am adjusting to them.
2. Stuff we hear.
The second kind of change is really simply about terminology, and though it means getting used to a new term, this kind of change doesn’t necessarily infer an actual change. I prefer to use terms that first, communicate function. So, for example, I prefer the term 'ministry guide' over 'bulletin' because for most of us a bulletin contains abbreviated news about things that have happened to someone else, whereas the purpose of a ministry guide is to guide us through the ministry event that day and inform us of ministry opportunities in the week(s) ahead.
Additionally, if there is a biblical term available, I prefer to use that term over a secular one. This potentially creates a cultural problem for us. For example, while our culture trains us to be leaders, one cannot find the term 'leader' in the New Testament without the exhortation, “but you shall not be like that”. The New Testament prefers servanthood over leadership. Additionally, in a multi-denominational context like Singapore everybody seems to use biblical terms, but we do not all have the same definition of these terms. This is why I prefer the term 'pastor' over the term 'elder'. Because though the main function of an elder is pastoring (1 Peter 5:2), most churches have elders who don’t actually pastor.
Regardless, nobody needs to change their terms to align with mine. If you are comfortable with the term 'bulletin' then you are free to use it. If you don’t like to use the term pastor, you are free to stick with 'elder'.
3. Stuff the new guy is starting.
The third kind of change occurs in a church because of pastoral conviction. It is my conviction that, as God’s people, we should live according to God-given, gospel-driven purpose and ought to organise ourselves in a way that best positions us to do that.
But, what if I don't want to change? What kind of help or support is there for me?
Our pastoral team at Grace is committed to shepherding everyone. In reality, all of us are living in a world of constant change, and these changes can sometimes create anxiety. But in a Baptist church, we don’t actually have authority to force people to change. We can implement change, but God's people decide whether or not they want to embrace it. The more important thing however, is that we each develop an openness not to the change a pastor wants to see in us, but to the change that Christ wants to produce in us!
Hmmm... is this really going to help us become more biblical? Why is that important? Are we saying our predecessors were wrong?
Will this help us become more biblical? The task of every pastor is to feed, guide and protect God’s flock. Though it would be lovely if people assumed a pastor's calling and desire is to shape us after God’s Word, we all know that pastors are also 'just men of flesh' and history is littered with stories of pastors who failed to represent the Word and ways of God. This is why all of us have a consistent obligation to be, or seek to become, biblically literate. Every believer (pastor or not) has an obligation to respond in obedience to clear, biblical instruction. In addition, all pastoral leadership has a obligation to respond positively when believers question the biblical integrity of any change. However, every believer also has the obligation to ensure that his or her resistance to 'change' is prompted by absolute allegiance to God's Word (rather than human traditions).
Why is this important? Because, though God’s affection is unconditional, His blessing is not. Those He blesses with His presence and power, are those who know the joy of obedience (Deut 30:30:19-20).
Are we saying our predecessors are wrong? Absolutely not! But every organisation experiences 'mission drift'. According to the authors of Mission Drift: The Unspoken Crisis Facing Leaders, Charities and Churches, "Without careful attention, faith-based organizations will inevitably drift from their founding mission.” That means if we are going to honour the mission of our predecessors, we are obligated to constantly evaluate all that we are and are doing, in order to ensure we are being good stewards of that original vision.
Ok, I see what you are saying. How can we pray and move forward together?
I believe the way to unity in any church is found not in the challenge to change or allegiance to a particular vision. I believe unity is a powerful work of the cross of Christ, which produces peace first between us and God and then with each other. It empowers us to satisfy the rigours of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and be obedient to the assignment given to every believer (Matt 28:19-20).