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5 Reasons Why Change is So Hard

5 Reasons Why Change is So Hard
Feb 01 Tags: change | 9 Responses Print Save as PDF

One of the most common complaints about assemblies and churches in general is that it’s very difficult to make any changes.  This can be in regards to time and format of meetings, music, outreach programs or pretty much any practice within the church.  Things that have been in place for decades tend to stay as they were despite no vision behind them.

Some things should never change

For example, an assembly should always be focused on the Word of God and make it prominent. Anything else is a sure way to lose footing.  An assembly should always be engaged in reaching the lost. An assembly should place loving one another as a top priority. An assembly should always be governed by a plurality of elders if possible. These things, and many others, should never change.

Some things should change

What can (and probably should) change in many assemblies are the practical applications of principles we hold dear. If a Sunday evening meeting is no longer meeting the needs of the saints in a fellowship then there is room for change.  If many of the saints are young families and certain activities hinder them from participating, those activities can change. If a children’s program that used to reach 100 children a week now has 9 children, then that outreach can change.

It takes courageous leaders to make changes. Elders are often raked over the coals for suggesting changes and many time their opponents are just a minority of the fellowship. It’s no small matter to lead God’s people to new pastures when many have become comfortable with the old.

Why is change so hard?

Unfortunately many churches labor on with the same programs and format long after they have stopped being effective. This is possibly because of a general fear of change.

1. Uncertainty about the unknown

Fear of the unknown has hindered change for centuries.  Playing the “what if” game can stall change and bog it down in the mire of endless hazards that may never arise. While we should never be reckless with change, surely our entire faith is built on the principle that God knows the unknown and when He says go, we go, despite our lack of understanding.

2. It takes effort

All change takes effort. It gets us out of our comfort zone and stretches us beyond where we are. Staying the same is comfortable. It doesn’t require us to think past what we already know. In fact, without change we cannot grow. The great men and women of faith all moved out beyond where they were and followed God to greater heights.

3. The good old days

It’s very easy to look at a program, activity or set of meetings and say, “It worked back then”.  Past successes do not guarantee future success. God often has a specific time for His purposes and then He moves onto something else. Keeping something the same just because it used to work doesn’t make sense either spiritually or practically.

4. Making law out of practice

This may be the number one reason change doesn’t happen.  People associate a practice with a specific principle or pattern and make a law out of the connection. I once heard a very dear saint suggest that there is a way to perform the Lord’s Supper based on the example of the Magi.

Others get upset that an assembly has stopped meeting on Sunday evenings, or the mid-week meeting is now in homes as Bible studies. These non-biblical connections are presented as being very spiritual and can be damaging when pride gets in the way.

5. A dominant believer

Often a great hindrance to change is that one brother or sister, or family that controls an activity (or the entire assembly) is unwilling to change. It takes a great deal of care, love and courage to take it away from them.

A related factor is that many of the controlling believers are now with the Lord yet their control still exists.  I remember a friend of mine being told, “Brother so and so wouldn’t like this”, only to find out that the brother had been dead for 15 years.  Following the Spirit might mean dealing with a person or group who is unwilling to let go.

Conclusion

Change is a normal and necessary part of church growth but is often met with opposition. It is not appropriate for any person, blog (like assemblyHUB) or governing body to dictate what every assembly should change. Each assembly is autonomous and the leadership should be constantly before the Lord and have a listening ear to the flock to determine the way forward.

As the assemblies grow and make changes, may we have the patience and courage to move forward and see our assemblies thrive once again.

Crawford Paul

Crawford is an elder at Thorold South Gospel Chapel in Ontario and has a passion for the assemblies. He and his wife Beth serve in various ways within the assembly to build up and encourage the believers. He is president of Believers Stewardship Services Canada, an organization focused on helping individual Christians, local churches and Christian organizations with financial, legal and governance matters. Check it out at bsscanada.org

9 Responses to 5 Reasons Why Change is So Hard

  1. Tom

    If a children’s program that used to reach 100 children a week now has 9 children, then that outreach can change.

    Very good point, Crawford. I’ve seen small, aging assemblies wear themselves out trying to do all the things they used to do, when they have neither the physical strength nor man/womanpower to maintain programs that no longer serve their original purpose. When you ask why they continue with, for instance, a kid’s outreach that has historically been competely ineffective at making disciples when they have nobody to run it, you generally find that the fear of being “unfaithful” is what’s really keeping these things going long past their best-before date.

  2. Mark Jacobberger

    Thanks for your thoughtful article regarding change and it’s accompanying difficulties. Of course the article assumes that changes are needed.

    Often we write or comment and sometimes even interpret scripture from or out of our own experiences. This tendency needs to be acknowledged and then realize it has a good and a potentially harmful component to it. If you come from a unhealthy but christian background or have experienced a legalistic fellowship over the years, the natural and perhaps appropriate tendency is to favor change and lots of it. Many of these changes are for the right reasons.

    If you come from a healthy assembly (yes they do exist), changes would be less needed and even infrequent, more subtle types of changes. The demarkation line between needed change our own personal discontentment can be real and a hard one to discern at times. In fact that line is often blurred by our own history and biases. We can find ourselves like a person at his or her workplace that is seldom satisfied with the way things are, even though the company is prospering well. It is an interesting aspect of human personality that discontentment comes quite easily to us all.

    As an example, is it wise to change assembly scriptural principles so we can be successful numbers wise? It’s sure temping when you see the community church down the road with a thousand people and we have a hundred. When does it, or does change ever become just our excuse to be “like the other nations” (1 Sam 8:20)?

    I would posit Crawford, before change is just assumed, that we check and ask ourselves, is this my own bias or preference? Or would this proposed change clearly honor the Lord and benefit His saints? Is there a scripture or long held principle that we are clearly violating or is it just me running away from past bad experiences naively toward new bad experiences? I believe these are needed gut checks that should be considered before change is pursued just because it’s change.

    You may think from what I’ve written that I’m against change. Nothing could be further from the truth. However, I do believe from my own “experiences” that change is pursued too quickly and occasionally for the wrong reasons. Often, if we are honest our own perceptions and biases do play into these matters and at the same time, giving little weight to God honoring practices that have been around for a good long time. Practices that had already been thought through very well before being designed and/or implemented.
    Is it true that some were not good? Yes, and these we must change!

    Excitement will come in the saints and consequently the assembly when the people are cohesively persuaded that they, as a whole, are being led to follow the Lord clinging carefully to His Word. This means quite little of what we think and adherence to a clear exegesis of what He thinks. The items that are not clear in scripture we have liberty with this caveat – that what we practice brings honor to our Lord which unfortunately is subjective.

    Blessings to you as you seek to lead the saints and honor the Lord – I know the change you seek falls into these categories.

  3. James

    These are all true. But I think there are two other, very important issues.

    1. We can agree that not everything that could be changed should be changed. There are a lot of things that are matters of preference. The issue, then, is one of honest disagreement regarding what SHOULD be changed.

    I had a discussion once with a brother who insisted that it was “invading a holy thing” to bring a word between the bread and the cup. After going to the Scriptures, we both agreed that the Scriptures were not clear at all about this, and in some accounts it did appear that there was a passage of time between bread and cup on the night the Jesus was betrayed.

    Still, the brother (admitting he was only expressing a preference) held that it was a strong preference. Out of respect for that preference, those of us who were aware of the discussion have avoided bringing a word between the emblems. We certainly CAN. But we have opted, for the sake of fellowship, not to.

    Nevertheless, we should have good (better) teaching about scripture’s commands, versus personal preference or tradition. And then, we can decide (as the Lord leads).

    2. The biggest thing that needs changing is hearts. Until we get a correct view of the Lord, the fellowship of the saints, the love of the brethren…and our place in all of it, worrying about acapela vs. accompanied, pianos vs. guitars vs. zithers and ukuleles, stand and sing vs. sit and sing, ties vs. tees… it’s all rearranging deck chairs as the ship takes on water.

    • Crawford Paul
      Crawford Paul

      Great points James. I agree 100% that just because something can be changed doesn’t mean it should be. I would caution against the idea that we only conform to one person (weakest according to Paul) simply because they would be offended. It always requires love and grace but following the Spirit may, and probably will, offend some because it requires going beyond our comfort zone.

      Your second point is so right on. The issue with all of these conflicts is the condition of our hearts. That doesn’t mean these other things are not important and shouldn’t be addressed (I know you are not suggesting that) but being Christ-like and having an intimate relationship with him will solve much of these issues.

  4. Mark Jacobberger

    Well said James – The heart with us all is always the Lord’s challenge!

    I’ve wondered, in the areas that we have liberty and should change, is it appropriate to follow the Elders lead even when we disagree? Isn’t this the Lord’s solution to endless chaos and disunity in our midst? I believe, this is what 1 Peter 5:5 and Hebrews 13:17 are instructing us to do.

    Of course the Oversight must be careful not to Lord things over the flock and from your perspective legalistic issues must be addressed. That acknowledged, how should they encourage and lead others(without dictating),if individual saints disagree at the various points of practice wherein the Oversight believe are good yet not specific in scripture?

    For example, I perhaps want (notice the personal pronoun) maximum liberty in the Worship & Remembrance meeting. Yet when personal stories, lengthy mini sermons, and exhortations surface instead of actual worship & remembrance of our Lord – does the Oversight have any say or dare I say authority, in helping the direction of the meeting?

    I’m sure it must be my own experience once again, but I have have fellow-shipped in 4 assemblies in 33 years and have never seen elders that would be concerned over the minor things you mention above, when the proverbial ship was sinking. If that has been your experience, I’m sorry – it must be difficult to manage your thoughts and emotions.

    If I may, I would encourage you to think the best of men when possible, be patient when saints are not being injured and entreat with grace, yet a seriousness as well when needed. You too are a priest before the Lord.

    • Crawford Paul
      Crawford Paul

      The balance between leadership and the flock is always a tricky thing. If there are elders who are not leading according to scripture does everyone just grin and bear it? I think in a sense yes they should, praying for the assembly and the leadership. But there is also a responsibility to follow Christ, not men and so therein lies the dilemma.

      I will say that I know of many many assemblies where the elders are not leading well and where frustrations abound (not out of selfishness or simply wanting change). Often they are told by the leadership to be seen and not heard.

      • Mark Jacobberger

        Your comments, especially of the “seen and not heard” breaks my heart. But no, I don’t think you should grin and bare it. This is why I mentioned that James was a priest before the Lord as well and must be heard – has the right to heard, if he approaches in a biblical manner!

        It it were me,(and this just my personal opinion), if legalism abounds, you’re actually not able to be heard, and scripture is being ignored – If I had a family it wouldn’t be a healthy enough place for my children to grow up in. In fellowship alone? I may stay and courageously content for the faith once delivered to the saints!

    • James

      Wow. A lot of issues here.

      As with gifting (I do not need an elder’s permission to use my Spiritual gifting), I believe the Lord oversees the remembrance service (as He does the assembly in general). So, if a brother is not being a disruption, he should probably be given a degree of liberty at the Lord’s supper. That said, we really should be able to talk to each other about things, and we should be willing to be flexible for the sake of fellowship. I am grown up enough to be able to resist the urge to bring a word between the bread and cup, without it’s hindering my worship. And I trust that the particular brother in question is grown up enough to suffer a man who feels led to bring a word in that moment. So, it may happen, but it’s probably not going to come from me.

      Speaking of “grown up,” I think maturity has a lot to do with it. I would like to see young men participate. It would be unreasonable to expect them to bring the same level of maturity, knowledge of scripture, or understanding of the implications of the Lord’s Supper as a more mature man. So, if a young man stands up and tells a personal story about how gracious the Lord was to him this week, perhaps a brother takes him aside and uses it as a teachable moment. In this way, we reduce the likelihood of a brother getting to maturity with that inclination still there.

      Clearly (or maybe not so clearly) the listing of non-essentials was a bit of hyperbole. The major point is that fellowship is fellowship. And we MUST seek to love the fellow members of the local body as we love the HEAD. When we do that, it becomes a lot harder to have irreconcilable differences.

      • Mark Jacobberger

        Well said dear brother – And though I mentioned certain areas that are desired within the context of the Breaking of Bread, there should be grace before truth. Not grace and truth aside, just so I’m clear. Young men should be taught but given great latitude in their comments.

        We had one brother, largely untaught who gave thanks for another brother in the meeting by name. He did it in sincere appreciation for the good that had been done for him. While completely out of place, no one (in grace) said a word to him in any disapproval. If anyone should take blame, it would be the Oversight for their lack of discipling in this case.

        If God is love and He certainly is – we should be just like Him. If He is full of grace and truth, then so should we. Amen!

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