by Adrian Kitson

Change is not an option. Change is life in God’s kingdom. God changes us. He has begun his good work in us in baptism and promises to continue it until the last great day of final resurrection.

Change does not need to be feared. A lot of the time it is the Spirit calling us into it.

Change is simply God’s kingdom having its effect on this dying world – the old going and the new coming into our midst (2 Corinthians 5:17). Change is God’s people responding to the opportunities God gives us.

We make change difficult because we are broken people turned in on ourselves with disordered loves of people and things over and above our love of God. We allow this to rule us rather than trusting God’s presence and promises with all we are and do (the First Commandment – ‘You shall have no other gods’).

I see in many local churches the resistance to all change. This dismissal of change as a response to our unchanging God who is changing the world breeds quiet desperation. This state of mind seems to accept a false reality that we cannot change and that we are a ‘dying’ church – as though God has given up on us because we have given up on him.

Change is possible for a local church. In fact, in a local church – a community of God’s kingdom coming – change is always needed.

Because of who we are with our limited insight, clinging on to things and people more than the promises of God, change is always unsettling, uneasy and requiring trust of each other and God’s promise and presence.

We should not be surprised that we feel unsettled as we change. Just because we feel unsettled and unsure does not mean we cannot trust the Lord in and through change. We are people of faith in him, not faith in the things we can already see, after all.

Change that is fruitful in a local church is founded on trust and vision.

Pastors and leaders need to share trust based on God’s word and strong relationships so that change can be initiated and implemented with clarity and compassion. If leaders trust the Lord and each other, they can call people to trust the Lord and their leaders.

The two move together into necessary changes. If there is little trust between the pastor and leaders because their relationships are not strong, changes will more than likely ‘end in tears’ for everyone.

The vision for change comes from the pastor and the leaders asking the ‘why’ questions for as long as they can before having to do something practical. Vision comes from a group of trusting, committed people in a supportive atmosphere in a local church asking questions such as:

  • Why has God put us here?
  • Why has God got us to this stage at this time?
  • Where is God at work in our local community and how can we work with him in his power to draw more people into a loving relationship with him by faith in Jesus in the Spirit’s power?
  • What is our calling – generally and specifically – as a kingdom community in our Lutheran confession of faith?

When the pastor and leaders listen and ask these questions as they dwell in God’s word together and listen to their people and people in the local community, they can draw the congregation into that conversation and gain a vision for what the Spirit is calling them to be and do – where he has placed them. Vision for change comes from listening.

Don’t initiate significant change without this hard work of listening, building relationships, asking why and dwelling in God’s word. All you will do is scratch around at surface level changes to how you do things. This may frustrate people or end up in unnecessary conflict over things that don’t matter that much. Change for the sake of only some practical need without any seeking of the Spirit, listening to people and listening to the word together first, will quickly become ‘all about us’, rather than all about the Spirit’s calling and directing. We will remain self-focused and out of whack with God’s leading of us into his preferred future for us. That is a real shame!

But when leaders do listen together, relate, ask for comments, care for their people, dwell in God’s word and work on those ‘why’ questions, look out! God gives vision. His people can go together in faith into the changes ahead.

It is a wonderful thing to trust each other and trust the Spirit into change that bears the fruit of the kingdom: Christians growing in faith and being disciples of Jesus, biblical learning, baptisms, affirmations of faith, new possibilities to connect with our community and serve it in Jesus’ name, faith, hope and love on display every day.

Adrian Kitson is Senior Pastor at St Petri Nuriootpa, in South Australia and chair of the LCANZ’s Commission on Worship.

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