Regarding Responsible Reformation
Al Maxey

Issue #7
January 9, 2003


Effecting Responsible Change

Some would probably regard the ideas discussed below as being tactics of the so-called "change agents." However, there is nothing wrong with responsible change, if and when such change is warranted. I have never been in favor of change just for the sake of change. But let's face it, there are times when responsible change is called for .... not only in our personal lives, but also in our corporate worship experience (if I may use such a phrase) and in the way we approach the task of fulfilling our mission as the church.

In a recent national study done on the responsiveness of churches to change, ministers were asked, "What is the most difficult change you have attempted to make in the church?" It is interesting to note that the overwhelming majority of those who responded stated that it was something connected with the corporate worship assembly or the Sunday morning schedule.

I saw a cartoon recently which showed a man being led to the gallows by some men in suits. A well-dressed crowd of "church goers" stood around the gallows watching. One man in the crowd is seen turning to another and saying, "I warned him not to change the order of worship."

We in the churches of Christ have typically been a people slow to embrace change. It is viewed with suspicion, and even an element of fear. Charles Arn (President of Church Growth, Inc.) wrote, "Most people resist change not for fear of discovering the future, but for fear of discarding the past." We are a "backward looking people," one author observed --- a people more concerned with preserving past traditions than with progressing toward the future with greater relevancy and efficiency.

In an article by the aforementioned Charles Arn (Church Growth Magazine, Vol. 14, No. 3, Winter, 1999), the author presents Six Secrets For Introducing Successful Change In Your Church. He begins by warning the reader that "people, by nature, tend to resist change." Therefore, one must not assume that anything new "will be naturally accepted on its obvious merits. It will not." In fact, one may more correctly assume it will be resisted, for "people are allergic to change."

To assist in the effecting of responsible change in one's congregation, Charles Arn suggests "six secrets," or guidelines, which, if implemented, will help bring about the necessary changes. Let me just briefly list them, along with a few attendant personal observations of my own.

ONE --- "Introduce the idea as a way to reach an agreed upon goal." It is important for a congregation to know where it is going; to have goals, and to place these continuously before the members in the form of a mission statement. If an idea for some responsible change is presented as a way of achieving, or better achieving, a goal already agreed upon, and one which is a part of the mission statement, it is more likely to be embraced.

TWO --- "Introduce the idea as an addition, not a replacement." Many will consider something new if they know they do not have to abandon that to which they have grown accustomed. If a cherished tradition is perceived by the members to be threatened or at risk, they will rise to its defense (and that generally means attacking and terminating anything new which seeks to replace it). Thus, seek NOT to replace, but to enhance. Offer additional options; greater choices. Never shoot a "sacred cow" --- allow it to graze peacefully in the pasture while the new, improved herd is brought in for inspection.

THREE --- "Introduce the idea as a short-term experiment, not a long-term commitment." This is a very wise move. People are more likely to try something new if they view it as being "on trial" and subject to evaluation and even rejection if deemed inappropriate. "We, as humans, are more tolerant of change if it is seen as a temporary condition. Then often we discover that the change is not as distasteful as we had feared, and, in fact, is often more desirable than the past." Sometimes the hardest thing to get people to do is simply TRY something new or different; they are more likely to try it, however, if they know it is a "short-term trial." The old adage "TRY it, you just might LIKE it" contains much wisdom. Make it easy for people to TRY. Don't force it down their throats; they will only choke on it.

FOUR --- "Encourage enhancements to create ownership." In other words, let the members claim ownership of the idea, and let them participate in implementing it. "Good goals are MY goals; bad goals are YOUR goals." Help them to see these goals as THEIR goals. When the members are allowed to help refine the idea to meet the specified goals of the group, they develop a "personal identity" with the proposed change, and are thus more likely to support the idea and work for its ultimate success.

FIVE --- "Sow seeds of creative discontent." The following is a valid principle of life -- "Voluntary change only occurs when there is sufficient discontent with the status quo." Many resist change because they find comfort in the predictability of the institutional church system. However, "the way things have always been" is not always the pathway to realization of present or future goals. One must recognize that there is "destructive contentment" just as there is "constructive discontent." It is only when members become discontent with the status quo (which may indeed be comfortable, but which perhaps is going nowhere and is not achieving their stated goals) that they will strive for greater relevance and impact within their environment. It is a bold stepping out of the past and into the present and future.

SIX --- "Start with the leaders." If the leaders aren't sold on the prospective change, it will face almost insurmountable obstacles. Those who are the most successful at effecting responsible change are the ones who have succeeded in instilling excitement for the idea in the minds of the leadership. From there one must go on to win the hearts of the core group of the congregation. With the leaders and the key members supportive of the concept, change is more likely to be embraced by the membership, and thus be ultimately realized.


Reflections from Readers

From a Reader in Michigan:

Don't know if you realize it, but it looks like you've shifted away from the restoration ideals and emphasis of the young A. Campbell and moved towards Barton W. Stone's notion of restoration. R. H. Boll and even David Lipscomb tend to follow that thread as well. He emphasized piety and allowing the Holy Spirit to work in our lives and was not so concerned about formal patterns. You'll also find the sense of contentiousness and arrogance to be absent in their writings as well.

Keep up the good work. You have always seemed to be a bit of a lightning rod for verbal attacks of various kinds, and this probably will not change. But so was R. H. Boll for most of his life, and he handled it with God's graciousness. I pray you will continue to do the same.

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