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
For several weeks I have been focusing 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. But I heard something this past weekend that forces me to pause and remind us what God wants us to look like when we have made the right changes, at the right time, in the right way.
This past weekend Calvary Baptist Church in Glenwood held its Second Annual mission emphasis, and one of their speakers is a missionary with our International Mission Board (IMB). By the way: Thank you Pastor Matt Rappley and Calvary for your ongoing support of missionaries and the way you live out the Acts 1:8 challenge. Because the IMB missionary and his family serve in what is called a Level III area (a country that does not grant missionary visas) I will not give his name in this article, but if you are interested in contacting him, ask and I will give you his prayer advocate’s e-mail address.
In the region where he serves, God is moving mightily among people who have been hard to reach. The foundational principle missionaries and local pastors use provides a picture of what the Bible tells us that the church is supposed to be. Just a reminder, the New Testament word we translate into the English word church literally means “those whom God calls to serve Him.” Their principle is...
God is changing the world through regular, ordinary believers who are filled with the Holy Spirit and who are convinced and acting on the conviction that Jesus is coming soon.
God is changing the world: “ Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” II Cor 5:17. Unfortunately, in too many American churches deep genuine life transformation (Romans 12:1-2) is a rare exception rather than the norm. David Platt’s book Radical should actually be titled Normal Christianity.
Through regular, ordinary believers: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” I Peter 2:9. Remember, Peter was writing to early believers who had been scattered due to the Jewish persecution in Jerusalem—not to early apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Peter was simply echoing what God desired the nation of Israel to be. Through Moses, God said, “if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” Exodus 19:5-6.
Who are filled with the Holy Spirit: Two passages Baptists love to preach, but too often practice using our own power and abilities are Acts 1:8 and Matthew 28 18-20. “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” Acts 1:8. “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” Matt 28:18-20. As promised, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to indwell the believer.
Who are convinced and acting on the conviction that Jesus is coming soon: The small group I lead on Wednesday nights is currently studying Jesus’ letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor from Revelation 2-3. As you study them, one thing you can’t miss is that the early churches—even ones who were chastened—endured persecution that often led to death. But they maintained a passion and sense of urgency for others to hear about Jesus. The comfort and leisure of American Christianity has led us to an intellectual affirmation that Jesus is coming, but it has somehow created apathy. Maybe we have lost our first love like the church in Ephesus. Or we have watered down the word of God like the church in Pergamos. Or we are allowing people in our church to live in open disobedience to God without lovingly saying something to them like the church in Thyatira. Or we are a church that thinks we are alive, but we are really dead like the church in Sardis. Or we have become a lukewarm church, neither hot nor cold, like the church in Laodicea.
No matter where your church is today, the right changes, at the right time, in the right way should be making you more obedient to God’s vision for churches being used by God to change the world through regular, ordinary believers who are filled with the Holy Spirit and who are convinced and acting on the conviction that Jesus is coming soon.
Leading Change in Your Church
Retiring in April 2022, Mark R. Elliott served as a Director of Missions (Associational Mission Strategist) in Western Iowa and Eastern Nebraska for almost three decades. He is a strong advocate for obedience and Biblically based disciple making. As such, he knows that making healthy disciples requires Christian leaders to be constantly pursuing spiritual maturity—be lifelong learners. Because of the time constraints of ministry, most pastors focus their reading list on resources that assist them in teaching and preaching the Word of God. As such, books focusing on church health, leadership development, and church growth tend to find their way to the bottom of the stack. With that reality in mind, Mark has written discussion summaries on several books that have helped him to personally grow in Christ and that tend to find themselves on the bottom of most pastor’s stack. Many pastors have found them helpful as they are able to more quickly process great insights from other pastors and authors.