No matter what your church is like, change can be frightening. Whether it’s a tradition of 50 years or 50 days, the moment that something changes, it’s a difficult process for people of every age and every background to embrace.
The only thing that is constant is change. -Heraclitus
How should we process change within a church? You must filter it through this question: does this change the message or the methodology?
- Changing the message of the gospel is heresy and must be avoided at all costs.
- Changing the methodology of sharing the gospel is needed and must be embraced at all costs.
While not all methods might be wise, we must not simplify any change within a church as risking to err regarding biblical faithfulness. There is a difference in changing the message and changing a method.
Regarding a question he was asked about church decorum, John Calvin wrote:
By this one example we may judge what opinion we should have of this whole class. I mean that the Lord has in his sacred oracles faithfully embraced and clearly expressed both the whole sum of true righteousness, and all aspects of the worship of his majesty, and whatever was necessary to salvation; therefore, in these the Master alone is to be heard.
But because he did not will in outward discipline and ceremonies to prescribe in detail what we ought to do (because he foresaw that this depended upon the state of the times, and he did not deem one form suitable for all ages), here we must take refuge in those general rules which he has given, that whatever the necessity of the church will require for order and decorum should be tested against these.
Lastly, because he has taught nothing specifically, and because these things are not necessary to salvation, and for the upbuilding of the church ought to be variously accommodated to the customs of each nation and age, it will be fitting (as the advantage of the church will require) to change and abrogate traditional practices and to establish new ones.
Indeed, I admit that we ought not to charge into innovation rashly, suddenly, for insufficient cause. But love will best judge what may hurt or edify; and if we let love be our guide, all will be safe.
-John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book IV, page 1208
Don’t change for the sake of change, but don’t stagnate for the sake of fear. If the goal is further gospel proclamation, change has to be made from time to time.
The only thing constant in your church’s methodology should be change in practice. The only thing constant in your church’s theology should be consistency in principle.
Learn how to differentiate between the two.
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Just (About) Married.