President Barack Obama’s campaign for office in 2008 essentially centered around one concept: change. Regardless of whether or not you think his first year+ in office has been a success or not, it’s hard to argue against the success of his campaign. And the fact that America voted the man who promised “change” into office indicates, at least in part, that America was not totally happy with the status quo.
A variety of factors may have contributed to America’s discontent with the status quo – a clearly sinking economy, America’s continued presence in the Middle East that many were unhappy about, healthcare premiums rising at frightening rates, etc.. And, perhaps, there’s the possibility that some are simply never content with life and are always seeking change.
The opposite is also, however, true. Some people, contented or not, absolutely despise the concept of any change. Being deeply involved in church for my entire life, I would venture to guess this number (at least in church circles) probably far surpasses the former.
There’s an old phrase that goes, “We don’t always know what we like, but we’re pretty sure we don’t like what we don’t know.” Does that notion of discomfort with change ring any bells? Let me share an example…….
My first year at seminary was the first year that the school required students to purchase a laptop and biblical language software for use in class as well as for homework. This came about due to a growing concern that, due to other demands of time and energy, our denomination’s pastors were not keeping up with their biblical language skills that they had put so much time and effort into in their schooling. The theory was that if managing languages became more accessible (instead of, for instance, having 4 lexicons, 3 Bibles and 10 commentaries on your desk as you’re trying to prepare a sermon) pastors would be more inclined to keep translation skills fresh. For me personally, doing language studies via computer has been manna from the sky as far as I’m concerned – an absolute godsend. Not everyone felt that way though. I recall some of my classmates giving up on it within months. They went back to only ever bringing books to class and doing language studies the “old-fashioned” way. They’d felt that learning the new language programs was more trouble than it was worth and weren’t particularly big fans of technology, or for that matter, change.
It’s only fair to point out my own similar experience though. Several years ago I deleted my first Facebook account. I had one when it had originally started and was more of a “college student” thing. In my opinion it was too much to keep up with. As an undeniable introvert, it was more access to my life than I’d ever wanted anyone to have, and “commenting” on other people’s pages didn’t feel right to my reclusiveness either (whereas a blog feels right at home :)). Anyways, after several years away from Facebook, I’ve now jumped back in, albeit not entirely whole-heartedly. Why did I do it if didn’t totally enjoy it? Because I realized Facebook isn’t going away. Because I realized Facebook was an incredibly useful tool for staying in contact with others (particularly teens that I minister to). Because I realized that, when used properly, Facebook can be a real blessing. So…….it was time for me to make an uncomfortable change……………for the better.
Cliché as it may sound, change is never easy. However, computers aren’t going anywhere. The internet isn’t going anywhere. Social networks, as far as we can tell, aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Somewhat oxymoronically, “change” isn’t going anywhere. Sometimes it’s necessary. More importantly, often it’s God-glorifying.
I’m sitting in my office right now looking at a picture that has the phrase “Create in me a pure heart & renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). Having just acknowledged his sinfulness and understanding God’s power and willingness to forgive, King David now asks God what? Answer: To make a CHANGE in him. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 the Apostle Paul writes “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Saint Paul writes in excited terms about a positive change – in this specific instance the change of new life that comes from Spirit-given faith. Is change difficult? Yes. Does it require effort on our part? Yes. Might it cause us some discomfort? Almost undoubtedly. But it’s impossible to say that change is never good. For that matter, I guarantee that if we’re the type of people who refuse change when it’s needed or kick and scream when we see the world changing, we’re going to experience some big headaches anyways and be left behind.
A very wise and faithful lady (you know who you are) gave me a copy of an article she’d read recently and thought I might enjoy. I forgot which periodical, but it certainly resonated with me. Here’s an excerpt:
The precious truth is that even though little in this life remains the same, the Lord emphatically reminds us in the Scriptures, “I am the LORD, I change not” (Malachi 3:6). We can embrace the new things that come our way in confidence that the God who allowed them will remain steadfast. It was His unchanging love that sent the Christ Child so we might experience a new kind of hope. It was His unending grace that provided a Savior so we could enjoy a new kind of life. We serve a God of new things.
New things are approaching us all the time in life. For that matter, new things are approaching us all the time in church. But we always have to be careful to separate what MUST change from what CANNOT change. Receiving God’s Word as holy, inspired, and inerrant cannot change. A proper distinction of Law/Gospel cannot change. Speaking openly and honestly about mankind’s tragic condition of sin cannot change. Proclaiming God’s unending love demonstrated most clearly and most effectively in the Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection cannot change. Loving others as Christ loved us cannot change. In other words, obvious as it sounds, the essence of the Christian faith cannot change, or we no longer have the Christian faith.
On the other hand, some things must change if I truly desire to faithfully communicate the gospel in 2010. This is precisely what the Apostle Paul was talking about in 1 Corinthians 9 when he said, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings” (vss. 22-23). It wasn’t just that he indeed had the freedom to change. Paul recognized the necessity to change in order to lovingly remove obstacles to the gospel.
What obstacles to the gospel could theoretically exist as a church? Unfriendliness could be a problem. Unclear or disorganized church programs could be a problem. Poor communication could be a problem. Tragically, even the vessels through which the church has proclaimed the gospel for hundreds and hundreds of years could become an obstacle: Complicated orders of service could be a problem. Ancient music could potentially be a problem.
What further complicates matters is that breaking through these potential barriers can initially be uncomfortable to us. It involves saying hi to new people. It involves having eyes open to recognize needs as well as giving of time and energy to volunteer and lead. It involves doing stuff we haven’t done before. That’s not always easy. That’s not always fun. But in Apostle Paul-like efforts to be Jews to Jews and Gentiles to Gentiles, we need to step outside comfort zones and make some changes. It might have worked 20 years ago. We can learn from that. But finally, what matters is whether or not it works today. It might have been considered the pinnacle of music and gospel proclamation 400 years ago. We can learn from that. It may still be the ideal vehicle for praise today. It may not be. There’s rarely wisdom in throwing everything out. But finally, what matters is whether or not it touches hearts in 2010. If that’s not the question we’re asking, we’re holding onto the traditions of men in place of God’s charge to us (Mark 7:8).
“What potential obstacles to gospel communication exist?” is a question that a church (and Christians in general) need to ask regularly. Sometimes that involves painful honesty. When obstacles are found, change is necessary.
Embrace the concept that change will always exist. The more you live for “what comes next” rather than “what once was”, the more flexible your life will be and the more receptive to change. That’s more consistent with the way God looks at our lives too. He isn’t nearly as concerned with the things we did in the past as much as what he has in store for us in the future. Embrace the changes that may come your way, trusting that your Lord has your best interest in mind. Exercise that faith and be amazed at what’s on the other side of the next door.