How to Change Your Church (Part 3 of 4)
In my first post in this series I argued that in the normal course of things, if you’re not the pastor of your church you can’t change your church in any fundamental ways. In the second post I explored several seeming exceptions to this, including a couple that really are.
In this post, I want to answer the question, “Well then, what can I do if I’m in a church that seriously needs to change?”
Obviously, there are no one-size-fits-all answers to this question. Every church is different, and every person asking the question is different. So in this post I’m not giving universal, take-it-to-the-bank directions. Nor am I trying to speak to every situation under the sun. Instead, I’ll try to offer a few suggestions that should apply pretty well to many people in many churches.
HOW TO CHANGE YOUR CHURCH
First, a general principle: find as much common ground as you can with your church and its leaders, and invest as much of your energy as you can doing ministry on that common ground.
If you disagree with your church’s leaders about election, at least you agree with them that people need to believe the gospel to be saved—so evangelize. If you disagree with your church’s programmatic approach to ministry, at least you agree that programs are meant to serve people and help them mature in Christ—so serve others and make disciples, whether through a program or not.
My point is that it’s easy to become fixated on the 10 percent you disagree about and ignore the 90 percent you agree on—and the countless ways you can joyfully minister together on the basis of that 90 percent. What if it’s more like a 50-50 split? I’ll address that briefly in my final post in this series.
Now on to some specifics. Here are several ministries which most people in most churches can exercise that should, by God’s grace, help a church grow healthier.
1. The Ministry of the Pew
First, the ministry of the pew. (I’d encourage you to check out Colin Marshall’s superb article on this.) The basic idea here is that every gathering of the church is an opportunity to serve others. It’s an opportunity to welcome a visitor, to share the gospel with a non-Christian who came with a friend, to help make things happen behind the scenes, to discover and bear others’ burdens, and to stir up others to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24-25).
So shift from being a consumer to being a producer. Don’t view church as a time for a private religious experience, but as a rare, precious opportunity to serve so many people in such a short time.
If your church suffers from the 20/80 syndrome—20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work—then your ministry of the pew should not only help necessary ministry to get done, but also set an example for others to follow. Over time, who knows how many people you might disciple into more active, selfless service in the church? More on that below.
Finally, this type of quiet, diligent, initiative-taking service is just the kind of thing that, over time, earns respect, trust, and sometimes even a hearing for new ideas.
2. The Ministry of the Pulpit Committee
Second, the ministry of the pulpit committee. Obviously, few people will have the chance to sit on a search committee. (Actually I don’t think churches should even have “search committees,” but that’s another story—and we have to do what we can with what we have.) But if your church is in need of a main preaching pastor, there is no more strategic way you can change your church than by working to call a faithful, godly expositor of the Word.
In a pulpit committee, a little leadership can go a long way. So suggest that you begin with the recommendation of a trusted pastor instead of hauling in a heap of resumes. That may well meet with approval, if only because it reduces the committee’s workload. And propose a biblical list of qualifications and priorities early on. That may point the committee’s focus in the right direction, as well as help prevent unbiblical preferences from torpedoing a godly, qualified man’s candidacy.
But my main point is this: however you can reasonably influence your church’s next choice of a pastor, do it. Of course not everyone will get to sit on a pulpit committee, but in most churches, every member will have some kind of say in who the next pastor will be. So steward—and leverage—that responsibility wisely.
3. The Ministry of Prayer
Third, the ministry of prayer. Praise God for the gift of your church. Praise him for his marvelous plan to call out a people for his glory, and his promise never to leave his church or let Satan triumph over it.
And, even more to the point, give thanks for your church. Thanksgiving pulls up bitterness and complaining by the roots—and if you passionately want to change your church, those temptations will be close at hand. So give thanks for every evidence of God’s grace in the church that you can come up with.
Confess your own sins, the ways you’ve wronged the church. And intercede for your church. Ask God to give your whole church discernment, love, unity, humility, patience. Ask God to give your leaders wisdom and courage. Ask God to grow your church’s understanding of, and obedience to, his Word. Pray constantly. And trust that God will work.
You may not be able to change your church, but God can. So pray.
4. The Ministry of Personal Discipling
Fourth, the ministry of personal discipling. Instead of focusing on what’s wrong with “the church,” focus on how you can help individual members of the church grow in grace. You can change your church by helping members grow in their understanding of Scripture, love for Christ, love for the church, service to their families, boldness in evangelism, and more.
And you don’t need to ask anyone’s permission to start discipling. Just start pursuing others’ spiritual good. Build relationships that are centered on mutually helping each other grow in Christ. Read through books of the Bible with other church members over lunch or on the weekend. Ask probing spiritual questions and set an example for others through your own transparency and humility.
In short, perhaps the single most effective way you can change your church is to personally help others be conformed to the image of Christ.
5. The Ministry of a Personal Example
Fifth and finally, the ministry of a personal example. One of the most effective ways to change a church is to be constantly growing in Christ and deliberately serving as a model for others. This of course goes hand in hand with discipleship.
You may not be able to change your church’s leadership structure, but you can set an example of humbly submitting to the leaders and making their job a joy (Heb. 13:17). You may not be able to convert your pastor to expositional preaching, but you can model an infectious love for the Scriptures that spills over to others.
You don’t want to set yourself up as a model in a way that creates a little troop of disciples who are more devoted to you than to the church. Instead, you example should have just the opposite effect. Your life should be such a model of faithful, unity-building service in the church that what other people learn from your example is not just how to grow in personal piety, but how to be a good church member.
In other words, you should set the kind of example that, if everyone in the church followed it, would make your church healthier, more unified, and more committed to each others’ good.
ONE MORE LOOSE END
You might not be able to change everything in your church that you want to, but I think this list is more than enough to keep most of us busy.
There is still one loose end I want to tie up: how do you humbly and contentedly deal with a church that has serious problems and in all probability isn’t going to change? I can offer only the briefest and most general of answers, but I hope to do that in my final post in this series.