Leroy Garrett’s “What Must the Church of Christ Do to Be Saved?” wraps up with two chapters that more or less summarize his thoughts. He spent most of the first 18 essays discussing specific changes in attitude, changes in practice, changes even in belief that we must make as a faith community if we’re to have any impact for Christ in our rapidly changing world. His 19th chapter, which we are considering together today, exhorts church leaders to make these changes carefully:
Effect purposeful and meaningful change, free of undue disruption and chaos.
[The Church of Christ] must become a changing church. I am not calling for change simply for the sake of change. The change must be positive and creative, displacing attitudes and methods that are no longer effective. The change must be in keeping with the mind of Christ, free of gimmickry, pride, and competitiveness. And it must be change without chaos, not unduly disruptive and threatening. It must be a balanced change that shows respect for the traditions of the past, the demands of the present, and the possibilities of the future.
God’s Church is always changing, right? Isn’t it? If your congregation is not changing, it’s not growing. Growth requires change. By definition growth means change. You can’t grow without change; it’s physically and spiritually impossible. Spiritual growth, numerical growth, physical growth — it all demands change.
Scripture commands us to be constantly changing.
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on…” ~Philippians 3:12
“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on…” ~Philippians 3:15
“…attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” ~Ephesians 4:13
“Make every effort to add to your faith…” ~2 Peter 1:5
I believe our Lord is calling us to always attain to the ideal, to always strain toward bringing the Holy Kingdom of God in its fullness into our world, to practice the righteous will of God here on earth just as it is in heaven. Knowing it won’t be accomplished fully until our Christ returns, knowing we will suffer many setbacks and disappointments, knowing his Church will never be perfect until that day of glory, we strive, we press on, we attain, we add. We change. We evolve. We grow. We push. We move.
Just holding our own is a sin. Just maintaining your church community is wrong. Our Lord did not come to earth to live and suffer and die so we could maintain. Jesus isn’t calling anybody to be middle of the road. He’s calling us to grow. To mature in Christ-likeness. To change.
Here at Central, I’m proud to say we have bought into this biblical concept of change. I’m honored to serve with a group of shepherds and ministers who obsess over passionate and corporate desires to become more like Jesus. It’s thrilling. And it honors our God who calls us to be a sign of change, a sign of salvation to the world.
Our vision and mission statements present discipleship as an active, verb-driven way of life. In fact, everything we do at Central stems from our commitment to discipleship. That’s the main number one thing. We take the call to be more like Jesus seriously. And we understand it requires constant change. If Christ is to be formed in us, we’ll have to change. If we’re to have the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, we’re going to have to change. So we do.
It means partnering with the local non-denominational church and the Assembly of God congregation in a food pantry network for the needy in our downtown community. It means our elders praying with the Disciples of Christ elders. It means working with, not against, multi-denominational evangelism efforts like the Franklin Graham crusades and city prayer breakfasts. It means hosting nurse pinnings and GED graduations and hospice rose ceremonies and marriage enrichment seminars in our building. And, yes, while we’re committed to partnering with God in reconciling all of creation back to him, we still struggle with the nuts and bolts. We still wrestle with it. Growth is difficult.
We play the piano as we worship with our Loaves and Fishes outreach crowd, we run videos in our Sunday assemblies that contain guitars and drums, and we host Christian concerts without compromising our commitment to a cappella one bit. But it’s difficult. We equip and empower our sisters at Central to make announcements and to read Scripture in our Sunday assemblies, to actively participate in the leadership of our church life. But it’s not without its occasional heartburn. We’re wrestling with it. We’re trying.
To be disciples of Jesus means that we put the needs of our community ahead of our own. We must place the needs of the lost ahead of our own traditions and comfort zones. We have to consider the needs of the needy to be more important than our own preferences. And it’s hard. We’re committed to it. But it’s hard.
To do all this without chaos we must lay the proper groundwork for change. We must not surprise people with changes, especially in worship, leading them to respond with, “What’s next!?” We must “talk out” new ideas and methods, involving the entire congregation, before they are tried. And it must not be done at all until the right climate is created and there is general agreement. This can never be realized until the leadership takes the initiative and works for change. Those with objections are to be treated with forebearance. It is to be pointed out to them that they do not have to have their way, and that it becomes a Christian to be yielding. When such ones cannot adjust to changes that are deemed necessary for the good of the church as a whole, the congregation will have to allow such ones to go elsewhere, always of course with a love that is slow to let loose.
My advice would be to always ask the right questions when grappling with difficult decisions. “Will this decision make this congregation look more like what it’ll look like in heaven?” “Will this choice make us more like Jesus or less?” “Is this a selfless move or a selfish move?” “Does this change expand the borders of the Kingdom or restrict them?” “Are more people going to be welcomed to the table with this move or fewer?” “Is this a sacrificial thing to do or not?” “Are we following the difficult path of Christ or the broader way of the world?” “Will this communicate to the world an accurate portrait of the Gospel?”
And know that growth — spiritual growth, numerical growth, physical growth, God-commanded growth — requires change.