Change is a word that causes most churches to cringe at its mention. In other facets of life, people endure change, and it is usually embraced, because most societies believe in order to become better and more productive, change must take place. Email is a great example of this. A person can quickly contact anyone around the world through email, and this has not always been the case, so there had to be a change from using paper, pens, and stamps to using a computer, keyboard, and the internet to communicate with people. Most people today have embraced this change. Communication is still the goal; however, the means to the end has changed.
Today many pastors and ministry leaders of established churches find themselves stuck between change and their congregation, or as the old saying goes, ”stuck between a rock and hard place.” Change is inevitable in the church. As the culture changes, the way we seek to reach the culture must change, too. It is essential to remember, however, that while methods and approach change within the church, the end is always the same. As the Body of Christ, we seek to glorify God in all we do by worshiping Him for who He is. Through our worship of Him and our understanding of what He has done in our lives, we seek to reach a lost and dying world for the sake of the Gospel and to make disciples of Jesus. This is our purpose, and it must never change! However, how we accomplish this beautiful mission has to look different today than it did even ten years ago.
As pastors, we stand before the church every Sunday, seeking to lead God’s people before His throne of grace in worship of Him, and to be honest, this task today seems to be quite daunting as styles and preferences of people are all over the map. Culture is shifting and changing rapidly. Tradition, if we’re not careful, can overcome our purpose.
However, if we seek to have a church made up of multiple generations and ethnicities, we must understand that our method of sharing the Gospel and worshiping God may need to look differently than it did fifty years ago, or maybe even five years ago. If we seek to reach people within this digital age, we may need to rethink our use of digital means within the realm of sharing the Gospel or aiding in worship. Maybe the more digital means need to be used. Maybe less digital means need to be used. The idea of leading through change is daunting, but I believe that change can take place within the church for the glory of God. This article is not seeking to provide a cookie-cutter model for change; instead, the goal of this article is to lead pastors through necessary steps to help each of us discern if change is necessary, and if so, how to lead through the change. What that being said, there are three essential ideas that need to be in the minds of all pastors as we seek to lead God’s people through change:
1. We must constantly be in prayer. If we are truly seeking to glorify God, we must truly seek and discern God’s will. Change for the sake of change is absolutely pointless. Creating change in order to better lead God’s people to glorify Him and to better advance the Kingdom of God is essential. Too often, pastors are most guilty of wanting to be on the cutting edge of what is taking place today, and trying to live on the edge because it is ”cool” or self-gratifying is absolutely pointless and ultimately is idolatry, because the newest trend ultimately begins to rule and reign your ministry and life. Paul admonishes the church in Ephesus to pray for all of the saints, and if we, as pastors, are praying for all of the saints, our heart’s desire will be to see that we do everything in our power to make worship accessible to each one of them (Ephesians 6:18). It is only through prayer that change is truly realized and understood to be needed.
2. We must be pastoral. Too often, pastors are not pastoral. In Paul’s letter to Timothy, Paul describes the necessary qualifications of a pastor. Two characteristics Paul gives are gentle and not quarrelsome. He also gives the characteristic of self-control. Unfortunately, I have seen pastors exude the opposite of these characteristics in trying to implement change within the congregations. Too many worship pastors do not consider people or context when change is taking place, and too often, too much changes too fast. Too many times there is no explanation to people as to why change is taking place. There is no biblical evidence or reasoning to encourage people to embrace the change for the glory of God and for the sake of the Gospel. It is essential for a pastor to lead pastorally through change, understanding that forcing change is not leadership at all. Leadership is taking people with you on a journey, and if you want to accomplish this task, it must be done pastorally.
3. We must have patience. We must pray. We must lead pastorally. But, if we give up because change is not happening quickly enough to satisfy ourselves, then we have left people in mid- journey, and too often this means that people become lost, because they are not sure whether to turn around or keep moving forward. Most times, they are stuck where they have been left, not knowing what to do next. Most pastors want everything now; however, if we are truly seeking to lead God’s people, we must read through the Scriptures and see a constant picture of leaders having patience with God’s people. Most of all, we read about a God who exudes perfect patience with a sinful people. Change cannot be expected to happen overnight, and many times, people will fight you on the journey. Remember, however, we are all depraved people, and we certainly cannot love our ideas for change more than we love the people we lead. Moses’ journey with the Israelites is an incredible picture of the tensions that we, as leaders, face in leading God’s people. The Israelites were lead out of bondage into freedom by God through His miraculous work; however, there were times they desired to return to bondage. Moses, however, continually encouraged the Israelites to trust God. As leaders of God’s people, we must be patient and constantly encouraging God’s people to trust Him.
Change is hard, but it is necessary if we are going to continue to lead God’s people to worship Him until Christ’s imminent return. Pastors face change continually. Sometimes the change is small; however, many times the possible change we are seeking to implement carries great weight and has eternal impact. We must seek to make these decisions well. We need God’s counsel. We need His wisdom and discernment. We should desire to be God-glorifying, Christ-exemplifying, Holy Spirit-led leaders who lead prayerfully, pastorally, and patiently, knowing and believing that God’s ways are always the best.