Changes in the Church

All growth is change, but not all change is growth.  Every minister hopes for changes of the right kind.  The growth in grace of his church members and the conversion of unbelievers is the longing of every true minister of God.  There may be other changes that are desirable also.  When I entered the ministry my first church had been used to holding sales of work to raise money.  I believed it was right to stop that practice and introduce direct giving through Gift Days and tithes and offerings.  One deacon at that time remarked, quite amiably, “Ah, well, one minister comes and we put the sale of work tables away, another minister comes along and we get them out again!”  That was over forty years ago, and so far they have not been used again in that church!

What changes should be made?  First of all, serious matters must be put right such as wrong doctrines held or harmful practices that are in operation.  Ineffectual meetings, or institutions that have long since lost their usefulness should be discontinued.  In some cases it may take time to assess whether a meeting or a procedure should be dropped or altered.  It is perhaps not wise to change something that is working well unless there is something better available to replace it.  “Do not fix it if it is not broken”.  Do not make changes for changes sake.

When should things be changed?  This depends on a number of factors.  If something is clearly wrong, it should be changed as soon as possible, perhaps soon after arrival at the church.  “A new broom sweeps clean.”  On the other hand, it may take time to prepare the church for the change.  When I arrived at my last church there was no eldership.  But I did not introduce an eldership straight away.  First I wove into my teaching the concept of eldership, expounding the pastoral epistles in the mid-week Bible Study.  Secondly, there were no men ready for that office.  I had to see men grow to the stature necessary for that work.  When the time was ripe, after three or four years, there was a unanimous decision among the existing leaders as to who the first two elders should be.  Some young men with little experience try to change as many things as possible as soon as possible after arrival, even things that have been greatly used by God.  They do their best to blot out and remove everything that may remind people of their former pastor. This may be due to insecurity or even arrogance.  It is certainly unwise and can cause resentment, distress and confusion among the sheep.

How should things be changed?  Tactfully!  Prayerfully!  Lovingly! And with the co-operation of the existing leadership, and with the goodwill of as many of the members as possible.  When I was called to my second church I realized that it did not have a strong evangelical ethos and discussed it with several senior men.  The Rev. Geoffrey King said: “Don’t scrape the ice off the windows; raise the temperature of the room.”  Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said: “Remember that spiritually they are children.”  Always seek to work within the bounds of the existing constitution of the church.  In other words, if the constitution requires a church meeting for major changes, then do it through the church meeting.  But do not spring major changes on the members without preparing them.

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