As my church heads into a season of change (an auditorium remodel, a name change, and a new website) I am brought back to the Bible’s views on changing the method but not the message. Change can be hard, but the rewards can be worth the discomfort.
1 Corinthians 9:19-23;
“19 For since I am free from all I can make myself a slave to all, in order to gain even more people. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew to gain the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law)s to gain those under the law. 21 To those free from the law I became like one free from the law (though I am not free from God’s law but under the law of Christ) to gain those free from the law. 22 To the weak I became weak in order to gain the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that by all means I may save some. 23 I do all these things because of the gospel, so that I can be a participant in it.” New English Translation
I love Paul’s willingness to change his approach to “save some”. Paul’s message never changed, he preached the “uncompromising gospel of Jesus” his whole ministry life. His method, however, changed depending upon his audience.
One of the greatest examples of this is described in Acts 17. Paul was in Athens and in a nutshell, he addressed the people in a way that was culturally relevant. Instead of insulting them, he preached the gospel using themes they already knew, to share who the one true God is.
Over my life as a Christian, I have seen so many changes in the church, some good, some not so. That being said, I am a believer in doing what ever it takes to reach as many people as possible. I am blessed to be on a church staff that is led by a Pastor who has a high value for those that are “unchurched”.
Let’s face it, we are creatures of habit and naturally want our own comfort. We say we like change, but we really don’t. In ministry, this predisposition is a nail in the coffin of what keeps a church healthy, growing, and reaching out to the lost. Some churches get this, and some don’t.
Warning: There is a strong possibility that what you will read past this point may offend some of you.
Many in the big “C” church, both attendees and staff, are very happy with way “their” church is. They like the “temperature”. They love the services! They love singing the songs they know, surrounded by the people they like, or are at least used to. If there is something they don’t like, they will let you know, COUNT ON IT. They don’t really see a need to change anything because “they like it”, it’s “comfortable”. Even though they would consider themselves mature Christians, their number one concern is their own comfort and safety. To quote Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life, “It’s not about you.” I have been privileged to know two men, who, if you looked at them, you would assume they would have little tolerance for change. Both had been in their church for decades, both were seen as “patriarchs” of the church. But these two men had a completely different take on it.
“Howard” was a man in his 70’s, a former CEO of a Fortune 500 type company. He came in every week and filled the information holders in the lobby as well as making sure there were pencils and envelops in the chair racks. He didn’t really like the volume or style of the music, but he served the church week in and week out. One week after having some cancer patches removed from his arm, he was right back at church serving with excellence.
Myron Lillie was a man who was literally “born on Saturday and in church on Sunday”. His family name was actually part of the stain glass windows in the old auditorium. He was well into his 80’s when the new young pastor and some of us crazy young people decided to start a “rock and roll” service. This was in the 1980’s in what had been a traditional Baptist church. There were those in the church that were not happy with “all these kids, smoking on the front steps before they come in to hear that Rock and Roll noise!” The very first service Myron showed up and sat in the front row! (Most of us were very nervous about this, I mean, the pastor didn’t even wear a tie!) After the service, the pastor went to his office and Myron walked in, “Pastor, can I talk to you for a minute?” the pastor thought, “Okay, here it comes.” Myron continued “That was the worst music I have ever heard…..But if you have to bang on trash cans to get that many young people into this church, I will go down and buy the cans for you.” Myron was on the front row of that service every week until he died, and many of those “young people” openly wept at the news of his passing. He had become like a grandfather to many of them, more than that, he had become Christ to them. It was not about him and he knew it.
I want to have the heart of Howard, of Myron, of Jesus. It is not about me. It is about the vision for doing what ever it takes to reach people with God’s love. As I get older, I know that not everything that our church uses in the service will be to my liking, but if those elements can attract those who have not been interested in coming and seeing, I am for trying it. We as the church and as leaders have to be willing to have the mind of Paul to reach one more, no matter what that means. It’s not about us; it’s about showing people that we love them by meeting them where they are, in a language they are familiar with, even if we don’t personally like it. This isn’t “our church”, it’s God’s church and we “get to do this.” It is a privilege and an honor to serve God and our community, paid or not.
I know that most of you reading this are techs or tech volunteers and some of you may think you have little or no influence on how things are programmed in your church services, but that does not mean you can’t suggest and encourage your leadership to step out of the comfort zone and try things they have never tried to reach those they have never reached.
Change the temperature, sing a new song, and surround yourself with some people you don’t know, and get to know them.