Bible College students want to change the world. Or at least their church. And they want to do so immediately. At least, that’s how many of my students roll.

I completely understand the compulsion to change things overnight. I’ve been there. You read the Bible, you read books on theology and ministry and the church, and you get a clear picture of what the Church is doing wrong. You see how things should be, and you’re absolutely blown away that no one else is seeing it.

All you need is a little bit of power in your church and you could change a lot. But even if you don’t have access to power, a loud voice will probably do the trick. You’ll be the prophet of change in your church. Someone has to do it. Things have been going wrong for far too long. The time is now.

Typically, our model for changing the church quickly is Martin Luther. The man was an absolute beast. He read the Bible carefully, recognized that many aspects of the church were grossly unbiblical, then acted. The guy drew up a list of reforms to be made, strolled up to the church door, and nailed it home. Church history pivoted on the blows of Luther’s hammer. Nothing would ever be the same.

Or maybe we don’t have that quite right. Did you know that Luther’s 95 Theses weren’t a declaration that the church needed to change or else? He was actually calling for debate. He saw issues in the church, and called for an open dialogue about how these things might best be addressed. And the fact that he nailed his list to the church door isn’t as bold as it sounds either. The church door essentially functioned like a bulletin board. So really, Luther was posting his request for theological discussion alongside Awana fliers and Christian babysitting ads.

And then keep in mind that things didn’t change overnight. The reformation was long and drawn out. Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg door in 1517, was excommunicated in 1520, and didn’t really start organizing his new church until around 1526. That’s a nine year span right there, followed by a lifetime of ironing things out. Reformations don’t happen overnight.

Also keep in mind that in an important sense, Luther’s reformation failed. He wanted to reform the Roman Catholic Church, but he ended up getting excommunicated and having to start a new church. (Please hear me: I’m not saying the reformation was bad, I’m just saying it wasn’t a true reformation since the church wasn’t reformed at that time. He had to start a new church.)

So let’s recap: our model for overnight reform wasn’t as brash as we would have liked him to be, he didn’t accomplish anything overnight, he didn’t succeed in reforming the church in the way he had hoped, and he had to work extremely hard for every change.

Still want to change your church?

I hope so. The church needs to be constantly reforming. We need reformers. But if you want to change your church overnight through brutal words and drastic measures, I hope you’ll reconsider. Don’t think for a minute that you’re better than your church. You are a part of it. If your church is not healthy, you’re not the only one above all of the dysfunction. You have a role to play in seeing your church become everything that God intends it to be, but you don’t get to do so with a sense of superiority.

Ultimately, we don’t get to decide how quickly a church should change. We work toward the health of the church, but remember that patience is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). It’s going to take time, and that’s okay. Depending on the reforms your church needs to experience, you’re probably going to have a long, difficult road ahead of you. But should we really expect it to be easy? I don’t think so. The most enduring transformations seldom come quickly and easily.

God isn’t an overbearing boss. He isn’t waiting up in heaven for you to produce results. Reforming the church is his work, and he graciously calls you to join him in that task, all the while exhibiting all of the fruits of the Spirit—including patience.

 

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Mark Beuving

Mark Beuving currently serves as Associate Pastor at Creekside Church in Rocklin, CA. Prior to going back into pastoral ministry, Mark spent ten years on staff at Eternity Bible College as a Campus Pastor, Dean of Students, and then Associate Professor. Mark now teaches online adjunct for Eternity. He is passionate about building up the body of Christ, training future leaders for the Church, and writing. Though he is interested in many areas of theology and philosophy, Mark is most fascinated with practical theology and exploring the many ways in which the Bible can speak to and transform our world. He is the author of “Resonate: Enjoying God’s Gift of Music” and the co-author with Francis Chan of “Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples.” Mark lives in Rocklin with his wife and two daughters.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Great article, something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Just wondering what are your thoughts on changing (or perhaps “working towards change” is more appropriate) vs. leaving a church. I’ve heard the “you can’t treat the church like a shopping mall” response and I agree with that thinking… but I’m not too sure that that response is the all-encompassing answer. Is it wrong to leave a church if you don’t feel aligned with how they’re going about the Gospel mission? Or should you stay and keep being that loud voice (even if you feel powerless because of the church hierarchy)?
    Thanks again for the great article, and looking forward to your response.

    • Hi Jay.

      Good question. This is such a case-by-case issue that I can only offer a few thoughts, and I’m sure plenty of people would advise you differently. In any case, I’d say that there is a time when the best option is to move on, but that this should not be our general posture. Many many people that I love and trust have gone through transitions like this, and I have too.

      Here are a few thoughts. You can’t move on from a particular church to being a lone ranger. Every Christian belongs in the church. So you’re going to be transitioning into another church body, and you have to know up front that your new church is messed up too. Be ready for that.

      Also, you can’t make this decision quickly, nor can you make it in isolation. Include other church members and elders in your decision. Listen for how the Spirit might be directing you. I’d take the attitude of staying unless it becomes clear that you should leave. When you talk to other trusted members of the church body about it, be honest about your disagreements and see how they think you should proceed. If they think it’s best for you to go, that’s something to consider.

      Finally, whatever you do, don’t be divisive. There’s a gracious, humble way to transition churches, and there’s an arrogant, divisive way. Be quick to own up to your shortcomings and slow to say anything negative about the church body you’re leaving.

      I hope those few small thoughts help. It’s a tough issue. But I’m confident that God will guide you if you’re truly seeking his will and glory rather than your own fame and comfort.

      -Mark