With God, there is neither turning nor shifting of shadow. He does not change. With us humans, however, there is change galore. Some of us crave it (and in its absence will rearrange the livingroom furniture) and some of us hate it (resisting with every fiber of our being the slightest change to the routine we have come to cherish). But there is something to be said about balance when it comes to change.
God calls us to change in many ways. When He calls us to repent He calls us to change our mind and walk the other way. When He calls us to be transformed into the image of His Son, He calls us to change the way we think and act. We don’t do these things on our own, of course, but by the power of His Spirit. Christ followers don’t disagree with these changes — they are required processes for every believer. Yet we do seem to get quite agitated when faced with external change initiated by others or even circumstances. We bristle if we do not understand the reason for the change and fold our arms in defiance if we disagree with it.
This happens in American churches every day. I’ve seen it often since I became a Christian in 1968. Looking back, some of the changes are laughable: When the traditional church in which I grew up had the wooden pews padded, and when the first electric guitar was played in a Sunday service.(OH! the talk…!) Some changes were concerning, like the man-made rules introduced left and right at a church I attended for a few years in my early 20’s. And some were necessary, like hard decisions required to deal with suffering finances or striving to be a relevant voice to a spiritually dying community.
My church is going through a pretty big change right now. Friends are dealing with it in very different ways. My small group of women has been discussing the thoughtfulness and balance required to properly approach and navigate change that isn’t easily understood. Since we’re in the midst of the journey these aren’t complete answers, but rather steps to consider when dealing with change that may introduce discomfort. Here are some things we’ve been discussing:
- Pray. This counsel can be applied in any situation and should be the first any of us do when we don’t understand something or seek to understand something. If we haven’t spent a good amount of time talking to God about the situation, we don’t have the right to speak much about it to others.
- Ask. Avoid hypotheses and speculation and conversation that may stir up strife. Go straight to someone who has the answer (after step one above, of course!) and ask, with humility and sincerity. Then listen well. Continue the dialog if necessary.
- Wait. Recognize that sometimes the answers aren’t complete or fully known, especially when change is fresh. Be patient, leaders are often still working through how to respond and manage the change themselves. Give them time to seek God and make decisions.
- Watch (Your Mouth). Avoid whining, complaining, jumping to conclusions, gossiping, or bad-mouthing God’s elect. This produces a bitterness in your own heart while causing dissention and division. We are called to be one as God is One. Loving each other is a sign we are His. Not loving is a sign we are the Devil’s. Hating a brother or sister is a serious sin.
- Help. Find out how you can support the change, be involved in a ministry, meet a need, make new friends. Being active members of the body enables us to be more patient, see more clearly, love more deeply, and mature more rapidly.
- Pray (Some More!). Perhaps it is time for you to move on to another ministry or church family. Let God be the One to direct you in that decision, not your current discomfort. Is there a clear word to go or stay? Listen. Until there is a clear conviction in your heart, see #3 and continue to pray.
My story: I know beyond a shadow of a doubt I am called specifically to the church I now attend — it wasn’t my own decision. This was several years ago. Since that time there have been a couple rough patches. Very close friends have left. At one point a friend encouraged me to join her in an exodus. I listen to my close friends and take their admonishment seriously, but God has the final word. He did not then, nor has He yet, prompted me to leave this family. Many things are changing. Some things I don’t yet understand. Many faces are different, I am missing familiar brothers and sisters and meeting new ones, but this is my family. And as long as it is called “today” I will be encouraged and encourage my friends.
So, turn and face the change.
What works best for you when you are dealing with change?