Three simple principles have been bugging me lately in regards to being a church leader. Frankly, I wish these three principles were not true. I would like to find some savvy book from another more successful church leader or business person that will coddle my anxiety and tell me I’m wrong about this. Unfortunately, nearly all of my research and experience (not to mention what the Bible teaches) has lead to be even more sure of the following three points:
- Nothing grows without change.
- All change is painful.
- The greater the change, the greater the pain.
Everything that grows changes. If it doesn’t, it becomes stationary and stagnant. And dies. Of course, not all change is good change. Something changing could mean that it is dying. Your heart rate going down, for instance, would be an example of bad change. But when drastic change becomes necessary for survival, we must choose to embrace the pain of change or lose ground:
- A cancer patient accepts the chemo, or suffers the onslaught of the disease.
- A businessman adjusts his product and services, or loses his marketability.
- A married couple seeks counseling, or goes through the bitter agony of divorce.
- A church shifts from doing ministry “like it’s always been”, or fails to reach a changing world.
I see these principles taking place in every single church I’ve ever known. Churches who have embraced change stay relevant to a shifting culture, but do so with great care and pain. Good people who have always been there still walk away. Internal and external pressures arise. And yet the church grows in number and closer to God at the same time. Marriages are healed. Families restored. People far from God awakened with life in Christ. The church becomes more equipped to reach their full potential in Christ. And they realize that no change they make will ever be the silver bullet. They will always be faced with new opportunities and challenges.
Other churches go to the extreme of imitating the world. Their change is usually a bad change, and they suffer the consequences of compromise. Sure, more people may come, but not usually. Because even the world is looking for something different than the world. And when they do get more people, they simply have a crowd, not a church. It almost never lasts.
Yet others still refusing to accept change have clung to a preference of what church used to be. They produce no new ideas. They focus on preserving their church rather than change their world. Gradually, many fall into complete irrelevance. Their baptismal waters are as stagnant as their vision.
I’ve made an observation that I wish I could ignore. Every season of growth in our church is marked by a season of personal pain for me. When I pray for God to expand our influence, to bring us more people far from God, to see more lives changed by the Gospel, I do so realizing that such a prayer will cost me. Because as much as I would like, I cannot avoid the pain of change. And neither can you.
And yet we should still ask God for it. Because it requires faith to step out into the pain of change. And God has already promised His grace to sustain us through it.
While growth only comes with pain, we get to see God move in new, incredible ways. God is bigger than my comfort zone. And He’s bigger than our greatest obstacles. And He’s bigger than the pain of change.
2 Timothy 2:3 “Endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.”