Church change: A recipe for conflict or an opportunity for glory?

Q. I don’t like the changes being proposed for my church. For years we have been a great church with great programs for all ages. Now we are being told by our leaders that we have to make some changes in order to more effectively reach our community for Christ. What should I do?

A. You may have heard that the seven most frequently relied upon words in many churches are “We’ve never done it that way before!”  Change is the daily drumbeat in the culture, society, businesses, and neighborhoods all around us but somehow when it comes to our own church it is seen as something to be resisted. The societies of the world are changing more rapidly today sociologists tell us than at any other time in human history yet the church, for many, is to be a place exempt, off limits, to changes because we like at least one place free of the upheaval change frequently brings. Comfort needs to be found somewhere amidst the hectic pace of life and if we can’t find it in our own church where is it to be found? Can’t we just leave our church alone so that I can find the comfort of quiescence in just one area of my life?

The short answer is NO!  I know that answer is disappointing to many. I, too, find that answer disappointing because, by nature, I am lazy. I get tired even thinking about the fact that changes to our worship style, times of services, planting new churches out of ours and the need for increased giving to support them, will push me out of my currently very comfortable pattern. And, most frightening of all, more people I don’t know may come to the church and I will have to go out of my way to meet them. I am 65 years old and I don’t have the energy for change! God, can’t you see that I have already done my part? (That is my excuse for now anyway.)

And what do I know about excuses? In the military, where I spent a considerable amount of my life, the only acceptable response when greatly in need of an excuse was “No excuse, Sir!”  Excuses were simply not part of the culture of military life. And I am learning they are not part of the culture of the church either. At times I wish Drs. Tim Lane and Paul Tripp hadn’t written in their book How People Change:

Any time we find ourselves in difficulty or trial [which change in the church can certainly be], it is easy to think we have been forgotten or rejected by God [maybe he hasn’t carefully considered my excuse yet?]. This is because we do not understand the present process. God is not working for our comfort or ease [what?!!!]; he is working on our growth. At the very moment we are tempted to question his faithfulness, he is fulfilling his redemptive promises to us [maybe my excuse will have to be rethought in light of the language of “promise”]. After all, it’s not like there are only some people who really need to change. Change is the norm for everyone, and God is always at work to complete this process in us … 

God has blessed you with his grace, gifted you with his presence, strengthened you with his power, and made you the object of his eternal love. Because we belong to him, we live for his agenda. And if change is his agenda, then repentance and faith is the lifestyle to which we have been called.

My excuse (and probably yours also like having to wake up and get moving a half-hour earlier to adjust to the new schedule) sounds rather puny in light of those words doesn’t it?

I repent and I now say “No excuse, God!”  I can say this because I know and believe there is no excuse and I cannot resist change in our church because that is God’s agenda for the growth of not only my faith, but also the growth of his kingdom.  I am called, along with my aged peers especially, to see change in the church as an opportunity! I have often said as a consultant to congregations being torn apart by changes due to generational strife that one thing the older members must remember and to gracefully embrace is their duty, responsibility, and opportunity to make adjustments so that we can be a part of giving the church to those coming along behind us; to pass off the privileges of leadership, and see to it that the faith we have lived by and loved has been carefully ushered into the hands of the next generations. And we must remember, too, that that next generation is very different from us. It is my time to become less so they can become more!

Thomas Edison, a man who knew some things about change, once said:

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

I believe part of my repentance must include embracing the work of change.  It isn’t easy to change. It isn’t easy to relegate my desires and comfort to the preferences of others, but the eternal rewards I believe will be worth it. The Lord will say to us who have accepted His agenda, “Well done, good and faithful servant! (Matthew 25:21). Now is our time, friends, to enjoy the day of change for he will be glorified in it and he will bring glory to us, his elderly eternal children as we gracefully accept the lifestyle to which we have been called.

-Dave Edling


About David V. Edling

Dave Edling is an experienced Christian conciliator who has worked with many conflicted churches. During his decade of service on the senior staff of Peacemaker Ministries, he participated in over 200 mediation and arbitration cases and worked with nearly twenty thousand Christians engaged in conflicts affecting churches of almost every denomination. Dave holds several graduate degrees in addition to his Bachelor of Science degree from Oregon State University. They are: Master of Arts in Human Behavior, United States International University (now Alliant International University); Juris Doctor, California Western School of Law; Master of Arts in Religion, Westminster Seminary California; and Master of Arts in Biblical Conflict Resolution, Birmingham Theological Seminary. Dave has served as a trustee on the Board of Directors for Covenant College and Westminster Seminary California and has taught in the Doctor of Ministry programs for Reformed Theological Seminary, Mid-Western Baptist Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. In addition, Dave has been a lecturer in practical theology for several other Christian colleges and seminaries.
This entry was posted in Biblical peacemaking in the church, Causes of Church Conflict, Change in the Church. Bookmark the permalink.

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