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Monday, October 22, 2007

The Process Of A Changed Church

Every church has what I call the “usual suspects” when it comes to personality conflicts. There are actually stereotypes of personality that each church has to a degree, different windows we all look out of, our belief system of how a church should work. These are conflicts that every church must deal with, and the most successful churches are churches that have stated some ground rules for their members to follow in regards to these very conflicts. We will discuss these later.

Church conflicts do not usually occur until there is some measured degree of success either already happening or on the horizon. If you look at a church where there is no growth, no outreach, and no real life, then for the most part you find a contented, warm, familial, wonderfully maladjusted and dangerous church. This is the type of church that is content and happy to minister to each other’s needs, and actually is quite uncomfortable at the thought of “strangers” coming into their sanctuary to disturb their comfort. In fact, sometimes they view their group and building(s) as an actual sanctuary from the outside world. This is why we will call them Comfortable Churches. Interestingly enough, these Comfortable Churches can be big or little. It is the mindset of a congregation and their leadership that details what type of church we attend, not necessarily the size.

Comfortable Churches are relatively conflict-free until that dreaded individual we all have heard about, and hoped was just a myth, comes to work for us – the Naïve Pastor who actually believes in the Great Commission! Shudder the thought.

Success, either imagined or real, has a wonderful way of screwing up a Comfortable Church, and it is always amazing to see how it happens. Usually that Naïve Pastor, poor sod that he is, will follow God’s leading and call for us to reform our thinking, to change our views of what community means, and to start a local outreach program. Some uninformed person actually believes what he preaches and, without the consent of the rest of our congregation, actually goes into the highways and byways and invites people to come. People actually do come (sinners are always searching for Truth), and the vicious cycle starts. This is where conflict begins. The idiot member(s) that actually started this mess is/are automatically shoved to the outside, along with any of the “strange” people that have started coming. The dirty, the sinful, the unclean; these are all a huge “cause” of the “effect”, which is conflict. How do we handle these loud, unchurched kids we have been busing in? What about the dirty looking family that stops by and asks for money? Help? Why in the world would we help them? And then the blame game starts. Accusations fly and unkind comments are made. The Comfortable Church has been awakened and it’s not a pretty sight!

Of course, our Enemy loves Comfortable Churches . . . but he loves the Conflicted Church even more. This is where he can do the most damage if he plays his cards right. Sure, in a Comfortable Church, he has lulled us to sleep, but with a little gambling (and he is, above all, a gambler at heart) he can actually destroy a Conflicted Church. He can smash its hope, create disillusioned non-believers, destroy marriages, ruin friendships, and hopefully kill the ministry of our leadership. By this gamble, our Enemy hopes to shoot the moon, and take everyone down.

Once a Comfortable Church becomes a Conflicted Church, it is hard to go back. The damage is done and once we are awake, we need to deal with the issues at hand. Now, this is not to say that we won’t try to go back to the way things were. In fact, a Comfortable Church’s first reaction is to frantically smooth over any blips or bumps in its “security blanket”. I have worked in several churches, and the surest way to do this is by using the ultimate weapon every Comfortable Church seems to have – Short Term Missions! Let’s sweep that sense of community under the rug by going 2-4 weeks per year to a foreign country and help the locals! We then come back and cry, telling the whole church how our lives are forever changed, and that we will go every year from now on to help the poor people in (insert-any-country-far-away-from-here).

This is the greatest weapon of a Comfortable Church, not because a short-term mission trip is a bad concept, but because we do not fulfill the purpose of what a short-term mission trip is designed for. What we must realize is that the short-term mission trip was originally designed to promote two things in the hearts of the people who go:
1. To create a foundation for a call, with God’s leading, to a mission field.
2. To create a passion for the lost in our own community.

As a Comfortable Church, we have actually used the Short-term mission trip to quiet the call to local evangelism. We use it to appease any guilt for not being active in our own community. Our Enemy loves this weapon, and does everything he can to help us use it. It is very effective in destroying the original purpose of Short-term missions.

Of course, now that we are a Conflicted Church, it is harder to use this weapon that has worked for us in the past. Now, instead of being content with the testimonials and tears of mission workers, there are those in our congregation who are calling for us to do the same in our community. Incredibly, this is where the conflict gets most intense. This battle is not specific to any denomination. It is fought in any church. Some of those same people who are so “changed” by their experience in (insert-any-country-far-away-from-here) are the same ones who cast an eye of disdain at the poor and needy who have started coming into our Sanctuary, eating our food, using our facilities, and messing up our Sunday school rooms. The Conflicted Church now grinds to a halt as those involved start to take sides.

Taking sides. Ah, there’s a concept. Whenever a side is taken, and there are two or more sides, there is war. So, the question arises, “What side do we take and what are the results?” There are some that choose to leave the church instead of taking sides. They do this to protect themselves and their family from pain and heartache. They go to another Comfortable Church, where life is good. Whatever church you are in at this time, remember that the side you take determines your outcome, and we must want what God wants for our church.

Knowing what we now know about the Comfortable and Conflicted Churches, let us now look at what can happen. There are two ultimate paths from this point. We see the conflict, and can estimate what will happen if something is not done to intervene. To win this battle, we must be aware that this is not at all a war of flesh and blood, no matter how ugly things get. Those who are destroyed will lose sight of this fact, and fight in the flesh. That is our undoing. This leads to the path of destruction, our first path we will discuss.

To walk this path, we must lose sight of what God wants for this Conflicted Church. We must promote the unbending, unwavering viewpoint that we are right and they are wrong. We must believe that this is their entire fault, and that we are fighting a certain group of people. We must NOT see the spiritual war that is actually taking place for the rights to our church. We must NOT pray or seek discernment on how to proceed. We must accuse others of wrongdoing. We must play dirty so that WE can WIN. We must NOT pray for the other side.

That path’s destination is pretty easy to see: Total failure. What then of the other path? This path is a path that God wants us to take. This path leads to repentance. This path leads to the Church of the Changed Mind.

The word repent, in the dictionary, means “to change one’s mind”, and this is really what God wants for us as a Changed Church. The really great part of the process of going from a Comfortable Church to a Conflicted Church, and hopefully to a Changed Church is that God is part of this. Many times we get disheartened as we fight, losing sight of His role in this battle. Sometimes we need to be reminded to fight the battle God leads us to, and let Him win the war. We must remember that a well-trained soldier does what he is trained to do best – he or she uses the weapons given us. These weapons are what we will discuss now. By using our weapons, and knowing that God is in control, we can be heartened and fight harder.

When examining a Changed Church, I have found several universal weapons that have been used, parts of a strong foundation that keeps a Changed Church going forward. These weapons are what can transform a Conflicted Church to a Changed Church. Here they are:

1. A Changed Church has a unity of purpose. Everything this Church does is done with the underlying intent to bring our community to Christ. Every program is developed and utilized with the intent to support the mission of the Church. Every member is well aware of the mission and the overwhelming majority supports what that mission is. Therefore, the key step is to develop a simple, effective mission purpose, and then to overhaul each dept. or program in the Church to align them with this statement.

2. A Changed Church is only transformed by massive amounts of prayer! This is what stalls and sometimes defeats the efforts of the saints. No prayer = no change. I would suggest setting up two areas of prayer. 1. Ask for people each week to pray and fast for our Church needs and services. 2. Develop a prayer team who will pray during the weekly service on Sunday morning. Some key points to pray for are lost souls to come and be changed, the anointing on our leadership and congregation, and for changed hearts and minds.

3. A Changed Church hears the Word being preached in love. Truth sets us free, and is a vital starting point to the renewing of our minds. We cannot be a Changed Church without an anointed Pastor who administers the Word to us each week. A Pastor needs prayer and physical support from the other leadership in the church.

4. A Changed Church is a church whose people are changed. Each successfully Changed Church requires a foundation of a personal relationship with Christ and each other. Knowing God and loving each other is key to the Conflicted Church being transformed to a Changed Church. Some suggested methods are to have small groups within the church, and to promote relationships between the groups. All of this is implemented as part of the recognized Mission of the church. Part of this process can also be a public renewal of our commitment to Christ, or a weekly time of testimonials geared to inform each other of what God is doing in our lives.

5. Quarterly Evaluation. We must be intelligent enough to evaluate our progress in a physical sense. Every Quarter, meet with your department and program heads and evaluate what has been done, deciding if it is in unity with the Church’s mission, and what needs to be tweaked to make it more successful. Once again, this is done on the recognizance of our Mission.

6. Be prepared to constantly change. The Changed Church is a church that understands that the only constant is change. We must be prepared to constantly move forward, to never become a Comfortable Church again. “No apathy allowed” is our motto! Progressiveness in our Bible study, Outreach, and Prayer is an absolute necessity. Progressiveness in our Relationship with God is a must.

7. Finally, we must remember we fight Spiritual Battles. Satan’s greatest weapon today is usually Circumstance. He uses it in all of our lives very effectively. It is always interesting to see his reaction to a Changing Church. First he attacks the leadership, doing his best to throw us off track with our own circumstances and daily grinds of life. If he can do that, he doesn’t need to worry about the rest of the congregation. Shepherd-less sheep are easy to pick off. Secondly, he tries to turn the congregation against each other, doing his best to get us back to being a Conflicted Church. It is always funny to see how two or three people’s spite can make you feel like everyone’s against you. Statistically, this is simply not true. Do not give into the temptation to fight back against these small skirmishes and darts. Go back to Principle #1. We fight Spiritual Battles. Like the saying goes, “Get on your knees and fight like a man!” Pray, pray, pray. Talking to the Commander in Chief allows us to see the true tactics of a truly desperate Enemy.

Since we know that we fight a Spiritual battle, we learn to look at this through God’s eyes, and join the side of Change. Keep the faith! No matter what stage of church you are in . . . Comfortable, Conflicted, or Changed . . . remember that God is walking with you, and that His hand is actually behind this whole process. Sure, it’s painful. Change usually is. I point you to Romans 12:1-2.

© Copyright Derek Hickman 2007