Thursday, 5 February 2015

It's Latin For Change


"There's only one thing that won't change, and that's that things change!" - is what my senior pastor used to say when I started out in pastoral ministry. "For a church to grow it has to change!" he often used to say. History and suburbs are littered with churches that wouldn't change. They stand alone, cold, dark, dilapidated, and empty. While the church's mission and message does not change, its methods must. Change is here to grow.
...on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Matthew 16:18b
Jesus used "growth" language to describe the establishment of His Church. When our family bought our current home, it was an old, small, two-bedroom, weatherboard, farm cottage. In 2010 we transformed it into a two-storey, four bedroom executive home. The process of change involved a considerable amount of discomfort and inconvenience. Firstly, it cost us financially. Secondly, it meant having a bunch of strange people in our home. Thirdly, it became noisy. Fourthly, it meant we had to shuffle things around. Fifthly, in order to add the second floor our existing roof had to be taken off (you know the expression, "As long as I've got a roof over my head..." during this reno, we didn't!). Sixthly, it was smelly - the sweat of the workers, the fumes of the paint, the odour of the glues, the scent of the new flooring, and the addition of our new septic tank system! But it was all worth it! The benefits of this growth have outweighed the cost of the change.
And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ
Ephesians 4:11-12
I think the analogy of building is valuable for any church to consider. The language that Jesus used to describe His church is the language of building, growing ... changing. The list of inconveniences that we went through to transform our farm house into a family home is equally true for a church. For a church to grow it will cost, involve welcoming a bunch of strangers, get noisy, cause some rearranging to happen, take you out of your comfort zone, and smell. But I can absolutely assure you - it will be worth it!
until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, Ephesians 4:13
Potter with a lump of clay - a Biblical picture of our spiritual development in ChristThe proof of whether someone has truly encountered Christ is whether they are becoming increasingly Christ-like. One of my primary roles as a pastor is not to do house-calls, but to help people understand what God they worship is truly like, and lead them in worship of Him. By beholding Christ in worship, we are incrementally and automatically transformed into His likeness. Before we knew Christ we swore, we drank, we lied cheated and stole. But then Christ gripped us and we beheld Him. We saw in Him the 'pearl of great price', our 'treasured field', and 'exceedingly great reward', and we forsook all and followed Him. We became a wet lump of clay in the Heavenly Potter's hands. He then began His work of transformation. He began spinning us. He began hollowing us out with His hands (one inner, the other on the outer). He applied pressure to us on the inside of our life and with His other hand He applied pressure to the outside of us. When He had finished with us on His wheel, He took us and thinned us so we would be adaptable in His hands. 

After He had shaped us into a vessel that was now tall and fashioned, He sat us on a shelf to dry. During this phase of our growth we felt abandoned, alone, and dry. But He hadn't left us. He was waiting for us. And when we were ready, He took us and applied His distinguishing paint to us. He then seemed to abandon us again by turning up the heat in our lives in His kiln. In this phase of our growth, The Potter stood off, seemingly aloof and uncaring - we rarely caught His caring eye through the inspection hole of the furnace. In the kiln, His paint on us fused into the clay and it formed a beautiful glaze. In the same way, the heat/pressures/trials of life are used by the Potter to beautify us as well as to harden us - so that we are useful for Him. This is the process of growth for a lump of clay into a beautiful vase. One of the hallmarks of a mature Christian is that they endure despite not understanding what the Potter is doing!

Similarly, churches undergo the Potter's shaping in order for them to grow. It starts by hollowing out the church. This is where the heart is - on the inside. For a church to grow in God's hands, it requires a new, enlarged heart. This heart firstly yields to the Father. "Father, have Your way in my heart" is a continual prayer of a church yielded to The Heavenly Potter. The result of this beautiful prayer is a change of heart toward others. Each Sunday changed-hearted church members look for others first not theirs (their friends, their family, their group members). Changed-hearted believers come to the assembly of the church and see others - a brother who is struggling, a sister who is lonely, a pastor who is disheartened, a drummer who is beaten, a guitarist who is highly strung. A changed-hearted church knows how to reach out as well to reach in.
If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds?
First Corinthians 14:23 
I've mentioned the story of our house renovation and the cost - not just financial - that was involved. But the end result was that our house grew into a home through building. I've also mentioned that spiritual growth involves a change of heart. Heart transplants come at a cost - not just financial. And the Bible also talks about a kind of growth that requires maturing. This comes at a cost (just ask any parent!). For an infant to grow into adulthood there are all kinds of costs. For a church to grow into a mature church there is a price to pay. As parents discover when their families grow, there is a price to pay when children need medical attention at the most inconvenient times, when sleep-ins become a distant memory as you're up before dawn on the coldest Tasmanian Winter's morn driving your four and five year olds to Saturday junior soccer, and when your daughters each get married to some guys who've each got 35 brothers and sisters and 212 uncles and aunties, who all insist on being invited to the silver-service reception at the Hotel Grand Sherihilton. As your children grow, there's education costs and multiple volunteer requests from the organisations they are involved with. Growing families come at a cost of money and time. I could also mention the physical drain of having worked all day and then coming home to give your children play/talk/homework time. Growing families come at the cost of energy.
so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
Ephesians 4:14
For a church to grow, there will always be a price to pay. Growth comes at a cost of finance, time, effort, energy, training, and strained emotions. Are we prepared to pay the cost?
When a church is around 50 people, it is very easy for everybody to know each other. In a church that size, everyone has access to the pastor and the pastor enjoys having access to everyone.

This begins to change when a church reaches 100 people. There'll always be a third of the church that you don't know, and now you have to wait inline to catch the pastor - or even worse still, make an appointment to see him through the week.

And when a church grows to 200 there's a series of changes that have already taken place that some people will already be struggling with. Most people will not know two-thirds of those in their church. Neither will they be able to talk directly the pastor after the service anytime they want due to him ensuring that as many visitors are made to feel as welcome as possible.

For a church to grow to 300 several strategic changes - just like those in any large family where Mum and Dad parent more than three children - have had to have been made. Rather than the church expecting one man to directly pastor every person in the church, pastoral ministry is shared and done by those with gifts of compassion and mercy and the availability to give the kind of time that each person in their care deserves. Paul told the Ephesians that was when each part is working properly, making the body grow -
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
Ephesians 4:15-16
For a church to grow it must change, vicissitudo. And this change will involve three key areas:

1. Structure- changing from the non-Biblical model of the pastor does all the ministry, to the Biblical model of each member of the church shares their spiritual gifts in the way that God has called them to do so and submits to those God places over them.

2. Systems- changing from unwritten, arbitrary, habits to tried and proven methods that all members know and understand. This includes systems for how visitors are followed up, members are cared for, leaders are trained, problems are solved, rosters are done, property is maintained, and needs are prayed for.

3. Service- changing from a clergy model to a member-ministry model. Every member in the church become a partner with the church. As such they share in the cost by serving in prayer, time, efforts, and their spiritual gifts, with a servant heart.

We are now at a very challenging place as a church. Can we change? My house and family tell me it's worth it, and I think Jesus does too.

Ps. Andrew

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