Change Your Mind, Renew Your Church

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Romans 12:1-2, NRSV

Over time, churches develop self-perceptions which become powerful unconscious guidance systems for nearly everything they are and do. One typical scenario is slow decline down the life cycle bell curve, leading to a growing nostalgia for the heyday of this church. As disciples look back, comparing their
present church to the former church, they cultivate an experience of loss. “Remember when we were (fill in the blank),” or “Couldn’t we go back to doing (fill in the blank) since it was so good back then?” are common conversations. Predictably, engaging in comparison thinking generates loss with its accompanying emotional response – grief. These churches find their energy declining further since they regularly cultivate their grief. Despair, apathy, lethargy…none of us want to live there.

Here is the VERY good news. Within the gospel is the opportunity to change our minds. The passage from Romans above clearly invites we disciples into the transformation process, including the way we perceive the world; the way we think. Clearly grief, or even despair, are the resulting experiences when we interpret our experience through the loss lens. There are other options. Perhaps an example will help.

During my most recent interim pastorate (which included a need for renewal), a new church in that community reached out to us, inquiring about building sharing. Being a couple years old, they were looking for a building they could inhabit, yet were not interested in purchasing property. They recognized the strategic location of the interim church, along with many other favorable perceptions about this church campus. Their inquiry served to stimulate the interim church’s spiritual imagination. We began to think about how delighted we would be to find a church with this many gifts and assets were our perceptions not fixated on the past. If we were new church starters being given this church with its campus we would be dumbfounded by the gift. “You mean there is already a gathered group of people who are committed Christians and we would not have to start from scratch? You mean there are leaders and contributors among them already? You mean we would immediately have this nice church campus with no mortgage? You mean we would begin with so many relationships already established in this community? Yes, these people carry some baggage, knowing how not to be a vitalized church. Yet, when they move into a new church mindset, they will come alive.” When we looked at the interim church from a different point of view, the church’s energy, mood, morale, and engagement immediately rose. Comparison thinking, which is a death-trap, loosened its grip on this congregation.

This experience of mind-changing illustrates a major aspect of the gospel. People change. People CAN change. Disciples in churches can intentionally change by renewing our minds, shifting our perspectives. Remarkably, God has given us this ability to change our minds. We are given the capacity to lay down one thought while choosing to take up another, renewing our minds toward God’s perspective.

Clearly changing our mindsets about church is a key practice in church renewal. And yes, this kind of church transformation requires inspired, faith-focused, savvy leadership. But for those who are called to help churches join God’s mission in this world (all disciples), changing our minds and moving ahead is so spiritually invigorating. Churches who are ready to renew recognize the benefits (and necessity) in this intentional spiritual discipline of renewing our minds. Selectively forgetting what lies behind, we set our eyes on the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. We join our spiritual ancestors whose stories of perspective-change permeate our Bible. We believe the gospel enough to cooperate with God, intentionally inviting God to transform our thinking toward God’s kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven. We are eager to engage clergy and congregations who are ready to embrace the unfolding movement of God in their contexts.

Mark Tidsworth
President, PLA

For those wanting to use this kind of approach to church renewal, pastoral and lay leadership wisdom is needed. Additional learning resources are Appreciative Inquiry, Positive Leadership, Adaptive Change Theory, Positive Psychology, and Solution-Focused Brief Therapy….and/or get in touch with us. For those who may want to use the new church development mind-renewing holy experiment described above, the following questions can help fire the congregation’s imagination. The outcome we anticipate is raised appreciation for our church, along with reinvigorated enthusiasm and commitment toward moving ahead.

• How does starting this new church call our faith to rise up and grow activated?
• How would we express our excitement about starting this new church with our friends and neighbors?
• What community organizations would we immediately engage as a new church in our community?
• Knowing this community, when and where would we establish worship gatherings?
• How would we organize our disciple development ministry given our community’s rhythms?
• What might a new church do with a campus like this one?
• What are the links between this campus and this community which could address needs?
• What would we start doing when we began as a new church?
• What would we never start were we a new church?
• What gifts and competencies would our leadership (lay and ministerial) need when we start as a new church?
• What do we currently do which would immediately become irrelevant?
• What current practices and traditions could be life-giving to a new church?