Recent articles have focused on leading change in the church. I have emphasized how hard it is to make sure we are making the right change, and now I am in the midst of talking about doing it at the right time, and in future articles, I will talk about doing it the right way. Regarding timing, I already suggested your personality (particularly if you are quick or slow to change) and prayer were two significant issues related to timing.
Today, I want to suggest that the scope and scale of the changes will also impact when it is time. When I speak of scope, I am asking will the changes you’re anticipating have a short or long-range impact. By scale I mean are they minor tweaks or major transformations. To have clarity with both scope and scale you need to remember my discussion a few weeks ago on your personality. If you are someone who always has a new idea to implement, or if you are someone who is reluctant to make any changes, you WILL NEED TO SURROUND YOURSELF WITH TRUSTED FRIENDS who are willing to help you analyze scope and scale.
There are a lot of adaptive changes that we make in day-to-day life to compensate for the unforeseen. These I would classify as short-range in scope. For example, you wake up sicker than a dog some Sunday morning and you have to call someone to preach for you. Or your worship leader has a major surgical procedure that restricts their availability for a few weeks. There have been changes related to COVID restrictions that we have had to make assuming that they would be short term. But the longer we navigate this uncharted water, the more we are becoming aware of the long-range changes that we are going to have to consider. Churches that never ever dreamed of using technology have begun using some form of on-line communication. Most have already acknowledged that even if we were to get back to “normal” next month, they would still continue their on-line presence. All of a sudden, the scope jumped from short term to long-term out of necessity without any strategic planning or thought.
The scope has specific implications as it relates to spiritual growth. It generally comes through small, daily, almost imperceptible, changes. This process repeated over a lifetime can yield deep lasting transformation. Paul gives us a picture of it in Romans 12:1-2:
"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
I cannot read this verse without bemoaning the fact that we fail to bring the full impact of the Greek word translated “be transformed” into our English Bibles. We use the Greek word in the realm of science, but fail to bring its impactful meaning into the more important area of faith: μεταμορφοῦσθε (metamorphosis). The scope of the long-term transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly is almost impossible to comprehend. But the day-to-day changes are of a scope that is almost invisible to see.
Changes related to scale will always be relative to your church’s size. Adding a new adult small group might mean doubling the number from one to two. A leap of faith for a small church might mean providing a community meal once a month. It might mean helping two or three children or youth afford to attend summer camp. For a larger church, it might mean moving from three to four worship services a week. Or it could mean taking a step of faith and sponsoring a new church plant.
The reality is that from time-to-time, God expects us to stretch ourselves. As Paul put it, “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:14). If the scope of the changes you are suggesting can be done in your own strength and without significant sacrifice or the fear of failure, your vision for change is too small. However, if you are in a situation where decline and despair prevail, then the scope of your changes need to be baby steps of faith.
Let me suggest that God has brought YOU to a place of leadership in the church for such a time as this. He is leading us to make the right kind of changes (those that create a Christ-like metamorphosis), and we are in a day and time of deep cultural crisis where now is the time for us to be reaching up to reflect Christ instead of continuing to reflect our culture. I would encourage you and your church’s leadership to prayerfully discuss your disciple-making process. Is it yielding deep life-transforming metamorphosis or comfortable consumer Christians?
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, DoM
Heartland Church Network
Mark is in his twenty-seventh year of serving as an Associational Missions Strategist. He served in western Iowa for almost eight years, and is in his nineteenth year with HCN. He has a passion to see pastors and church leaders grow in their abilities to lead their churches. He continues to have a heart and desire to see new churches planted and God continues to use his strategic thinking skills in this area. Mark also has a wealth of experience in helping churches clarify who God has created them to be, and what they can do best to reach their community. He has had ample opportunities to help churches in times of conflict, and has seen God do exciting things to restore a spirit of harmony, returning churches to a time of fruitfulness. He also helps churches in transition by working with search committees. Mark and Phyllis who were married in November of 2018 have four children and three grandchildren. They will enjoy their combined 87th anniversary in just a few days.