Building a Change Culture

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.

Now some response:

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.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Rick

    I have not read the book, but heard a leadership podcast in which Andy talked about this issue of change. A big concern I have is accountability. Who determines if the vision (change) is a good idea?

    Andy contends that people resist change because they don’t want to do something different. Although that may play a role for some, I think a lot of resistance just comes from people being skeptical about the vision. He seems to believe that the one giving the vision is right, and those who resist are wrong.

  • RJS

    Rick,

    Thanks. And that is a big problem.

  • Phil

    We’re a small missional church plant, http://www.openhousechurch.ca, that has used the lectionary for 2 years now. Won’t go back. But you are totally right, the reader is soooooo important.

  • JKG

    Scot,

    I share your perspective on reading and teaching from the lectionary. My adult Bible class students are surprised at how deep the Biblical text is… because some of them have never heard more than a few verses at a time in worship.

    It’s a lot more work to prepare for worship when the Scriptures are core to the message rather than whatever happens to be on our hearts during the weeks of preparation. Our desire to be genuine and connected emotionally in worship, of being relevant to immediate experiences, has too often had the unintended effect of hiding or replacing the underlying message.

  • TomH

    Anxious for the comments to come.
    Yes, vision casting journey can be filled with potholes, but if you can’t trust those casting the vision, my first question would be Why?
    I like the lectionary experience because 1/ you do move through the whole of the bible over time and 2/ you don’t get stuck in a sermon series that “has no end”. Once sat in a church where the sermon always ended at the same spot. . . different route, same destination. . . can’t ever go back to that possibility which of course Andy addresses.

  • Gary Lyn

    “Fidelity capable of change.”
    Well-said Scot. Fidelity is a more basic, foundational category, if you will, out of which change arises. With change model, the most basic question often never gets asked: Why do we need this change at this time and placee? To honor fidelity is a really good answer!

  • RobS

    Wow, #2 jumps off the page… “the catalyst for introducing and facilitating change in the local church is a God-honoring, mouthwatering, unambiguously clear vision”

    Need to hammer that one like a nail. Good goal to consider in light of a lot of church efforts.

  • Bob Bixby

    What lectionary do you recommend?

  • Rick

    TomH #5-

    “…but if you can’t trust those casting the vision…”

    A person can be trusted yet that person can still make mistakes. Just because a person is in charge does not mean that the vision is always correct.

  • http://churchinacircle.com Kathleen Ward

    Perhaps a different approach to Scripture is needed – neither boring nor superficial. Simply The Story is an interactive, oral approach to studying God’s story which can replace the sermon altogether, and results in better recall, deeper understanding, greater application and more frequent passing-on of Scripture than any monologue method. Of course, then we would have to rethink the whole way we do church – but perhaps it would be worth it.

    - Kathleen

  • http://www.spirithome.com/ Bob Longman

    Lutherans are a #4 church. We use the lectionary and base the sermon on the readings for the day (though we are free to use other Bible readings if the situation at hand really calls for it). It’s done in the form of Lesson (OT), Epistle (the rest of the NT), Psalm, and Gospel reading we use is the Lectionary reading for the Gospel. Hearing a different part of the the Gospel each service meant that we come to understand a more whole gospel. As long as there’s also *study* of the Bible outside of a worship (I’d say even outside of a church) setting, I commend that practice.

    It’s not just the boring readers and the boring pastors. It’s the congregants, too. How to open them to the Spirit? The Word. Lutherans tend to say that as a cliche, which leads to failure. T
    here’s more to it than that – our receptivity to the Spirit needs to be nurtured. Hence the need for a renewed effort re disciplines and prayer.

  • T

    Scot,

    Somewhat related note: We’re starting a meeting at my church that will be a mix of the Book of Common Prayer, some worship songs, and I Cor. 14 (giving space for people to be silent, pray and even speak at the Spirit’s leading, etc.).

    Crazy? Probably. But my hope is that we can cultivate listening to the Spirit–in the scriptures, in the spontaneous work today through the church, and in the wisdom of tradition.

    I love the BCP, but the biggest issue will be the apocryphal books. Any suggestions? My plan right now is to simply skip the readings from those books–not because they’re bad per se, but because my church doesn’t receive them as scripture.

    Also, any anglicans or episcopalians out there who have done anything like this? Any suggestions or bits of wisdom? Any other resources I should look at?

  • R. M.

    Our church is running its young families w kids ragged. Particularly the Mums. We seem to run the here is a new idea we will add it model. And we are a #3 church, sort of.

    Our church model creates tension within the staff because everyone has their own program they want to implement and everyone is given the go ahead, but w little support, limited resources, and limited volunteer base. As a preK coordinator (bottom of the leadership hierarchy) I appreciate that Andy uses entire sermons to recruit children’s volunteers. I use 11 yr. olds to teach 3-5 yr olds…I could certainly use the material we teach to help those students develop daily Bible readings, but there is no vision here, and their time is taken by too many other activites (like invite your friends to retromovie night). And I think those kids would be exposed to more Bible reading thru preparation and teaching than reading in the service. NP leverages small groups in children’s ministry and in adult ministry to foster Bible reading–you learn 10% of what you hear, 90% of what you teach. (Their volunteers in these areas number in the thousands.) I think this needs to be taken into account.

    We attended a mega church in Dallas, and they often drew people in that grew up in traditional churches that had Bible reading, but it wasn’t until they heard relavent preaching that they began to read the Bible on their own.

  • A Medrano

    Just a thought. If people gathered to hear a reading instead of a sermon, what does that mean for today?

    Back then people gathered to hear a reading most likely because not many people were literate. If that was the case, then why gather to hear a reading?

    Should we even then gather at all as if Scripture was the center of the gathering? If not, then why meet?

  • R. M.

    I think Medrano asks a good question. And I also think that many churches can come up w/ a variety of thoughtful ways to be the church in their particular cultural contexts. And in most cases, I also think we should be more thankful than critical of those differences. I’m just aware that if we are going to talk about changes regarding music, then should we also heed Dallas Willard’s point that the world wide population explosion should also challange our notions about how we do church (sorry, huge paraphrase here).

  • A Medrano

    What if the church then only kept people accountable to their reading and studying of scripture? And the church used its own reading plan for people to follow with? And what happened on Sundays was the action, the doing, the application, of Scriture?

    What if Sundays became training centers?

  • Matt Edwards

    Scot, this is a great insight. Change is always a balancing act between improving systems and being faithful to people.

    Systems are what they are for a reason. Not only did they work at one time, but they were put in place by a person. People freak out at change, not just because they don’t like change (they don’t), but also because changing a system feels a little like betraying the person who put the system in place. “You want to get rid of the piano? But Aunt Bertha donated the piano in honor of her late husband who was a deacon at the church for 25 years!”

    When you value change over people, you have a problem.

    I love Andy Stanley and I’m in no way implying that’s where he is. But I love the corrective you add–we need to improve, but not at the expense of faithfulness.


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