For many readers of this blog it was the worship wars where it became obvious that times were changing. I remember someone fighting the worship wars — which meant drums and electric guitars and a worship band and not using hymnbooks for every blessed-by-God song — by saying his daughter would not be exposed to the theology of the hymns. Most of us got through those wars and are now in more peaceful times, but what we learned — for sure — is exactly what Andy Stanley says: “Every innovation has an expiration date” (265, from his book Deep & Wide).
Where did you see the “system” get in the way of needed change? What helped? What hurt? What do you think of my proposal?
What Andy Stanley has done at North Point Community Church is attempt to create a culture that is open to change. Before I respond, here are some major points Andy offers:
First, the problem is a systems problem. Churches have systems and they mostly work; change means resisting what is working (or thought to be working). These are part of your system: building, budget, staff, attenders … all these are part of a system.
Second, here’s his thesis: “the catalyst for introducing and facilitating change in the local church is a God-honoring, mouthwatering, unambiguously clear vision” (270). Change happens through vision and can only happen by appealing to vision. To talk about change begin with what needs to change; not where you are now.
Third, change begins with you and a burden, some holy discontent.
Fourth, new ideas are great ideas until you ask people to implement them with some changes. People like the ideas but the model of church is in the way; model needs to give way to mission. The model has to fit the mission, or the model runs the system. A major “model” is Pay the bills.
Fifth, the most important thing is people. Date your model; marry your mission. Here’s the order: mission, vision, model, programming. Their mission: leading people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.
Sixth, leadership is central to this; not management but leaders who are vision-centric. The apostle Paul was a leader, and you can read what “leader” means by watching Paul in Acts and listening to him in his letters. That’s leadership. It’s about giftedness, not calling and ordaining.
I’m all for seeing the problem in systemics; I’m all for the need for change. But a change culture can be its own problem, so I would urge us to see a culture that looks more like this:
Fidelity capable of change.
When everything is changing all the time change becomes the mode of operation. Any change culture must be checked against a fidelity culture.
I give one example: Reading Scripture in Sunday services. Change cultures — mark my words — rarely are cultures that read anything from the Bible except what is being preached that Sunday. Which means that the only Bible the people hear is the Bible text being preached. Add up how much Bible is read in your church annually; list the books in the Bible from which texts were read — I don’t mean just single verses I mean texts. Now ponder that over a decade, and you will see a problem. There are three kinds of churches today, make that four:
1. Topical churches that read isolated verses, rarely more than a few verses.
2. Textual churches that read from a book as the pastor preaches that book.
3. Traditional churches that trim the Bible readings to fit into a 45 minute service.
4. Traditional churches that read the set Bible readings for that week.
In 10 years, #3 and #4 will expose the church to more Bible. The problem with #3 and #4 is not the lectionary; the problem is boring readers followed up by boring preachers. Good readers followed by good preachers makes the whole Bible come alive for a whole church.
The problem with a change culture in this regard is #1 and #2, and now we have a change culture that doesn’t know its Bible and uses small groups to read books other than the Bible. The good news about #1 and #2 is a change culture that pushes hard in small groups to read and study the Bible.
Israel and the early church — most of its history in fact — gathered to hear the Word of God read not to hear a series of sermons. Sermons were on the set readings. The most sola scriptura approach to the Sunday sermon is to let the Bible’s readings set the sermon’s text for the day. That way the Bible tells us what to talk about rather than our decisions determining what to talk about.
The lectionary is no death climb for either a change culture nor for unattractive churches.
My contention then is: fidelity capable of change.