The Challenges of Being a Church Today Pt 2: How Much to Change

This blog series is based on a sermon I did at Westminster titled  “The State of the Church Address.” You can listen to it HERE.

In a previous blog post I talked about how challenging it is to be a church today. Now I continue to talk about one of the most challenging parts of being a church today.

I think it is challenging to balance how much to change and how much to stay the same. We are a church based in tradition and history. We are God’s people and live a very old story. At the same time, the church has always changed to fit its culture, the way the church is spoken in the language of the place where it exists. German churches speak German and Spanish churches speak Spanish. So to churches in Western culture in the year 2016 need to speak like a Western church in 2016.

Many mainline churches face the same obstacle. While the world around them has changed dramatically, the church has been the one place that has stayed the same. It is the one anchor in many of our lives. Our world has changed. Our kids have moved away. Our parents are gone. Our work has closed down. But at least our church is the same. It is our safe haven. The last bastion of hope and stability in our radically changing world.

SwingThis is why when a church makes some changes they are sometimes met with overly emotional responses. People are responding to more than the change in carpet or the paint color. They are responding to all the other changes in their lives. If you change the music in the church, you are changing one of the things that has helped them cope with the changes in other areas of their lives. You stir up feelings not only about the music, you also stir up feelings of anxiety and grief about all those other changes.

Pastors and church boards are sometimes blindsided by these reactions, but they are understandable and should be expected. But the church cannot stay the same. We are a church of multiple generations. That means that people have different personalities, preferences, and needs. We are a church for all those people. A church that still looks like it did in the 1950’s and 1960’s is simply not being faithful to God’s call and plan.

We have probably felt this tension the most in music. Some people only want to do hymns on the organ. Some people want more praise music and a band. Sometimes we blend those styles so that nobody is totally happy.

But this is one of the big questions for the church—how much should we change and how much should we stay the same? Some people are fighting to change nothing in the church. Others are arguing for a total rethinking of what have been call the essentials of the faith. What do we need to hold on to tightly and what do we need to let go in the church moving forward?

The church has always had the tensions of looking forward and looking back. The early church debated the issues of circumcision and dietary laws. The reformers debated the mass and theologies like confession, communion, and indulgences.

Len Sweet says that the church needs to be like a kid on a swing. We need to kick our feet both into the future and into the past if we are going to keep the ride going. That is not always easy to negotiate, but we are working in that tension.


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