Our Church Doesn't Need to Change

By Rev. Debra Griffis-Woodberry

Recently, I heard someone say, “Our church doesn’t need to change.” I am not this person’s pastor nor am I a Pinnacle Consultant with her church. I heard her words in a group conversation in a casual, social setting in which I had no leadership responsibility. I did not respond to her comment. Yet, it has lingered with me. I keep thinking about it. I realize that this statement expresses the view of a sizable number of people in established congregations. In a way it is a compliment to previous endeavors where clergy and laity have worked hard and organized well. Property has been nicely maintained. Engaging worship with well-crafted sermons and inspirational prayers and music is the norm. Faith development and service opportunities engage a core group who were and are talented and faithful. The budget is met each year. Perhaps she is right. Maybe churches like hers do not need to change.

Pastors and church staff are faced with the challenge of gently helping churches be poised to change. At the same time those who do not realize a need for change also are deserving of pastoral care and nurturing.

When maintenance of a good situation becomes burdensome, then folks are more open to new ways of doing church. Urgency and even panic set in when congregations loose good leaders due to illness or death and there is one to take their place. Likely a readiness for change will not emerge until the urgency of maintenance begins to happen.

Meanwhile, there is a unique dimension of ministry that is before us. It is the need for authentic ministry to those who desire to just keep doing church the same way. It requires discernment and implementation of one’s best practices. When pastors and other leaders are ready for full immersion into the 21st Century ways of doing church and others are not it calls for a special energy to walk in two different perspectives and cultures. The pastor particularly has responsibility to be the pastor of all.

As we try to build the Kingdom of God for today and tomorrow, consider these suggestions when engaging those who are reluctant to change.

  • Many are loyal to a particular local church. The global/cosmic understanding of the Kingdom of God is not a part of their perspective.

  • A majority of these folks are older. It calls for us to adopt a mindset of “honoring” our parents.

  • Offer ministry with integrity, avoiding doing or saying things you do not believe.

  • Prepare to hone the gift of “interpretation of tongues”. Those of us who are 21st Century oriented, but understand 20th Century ways, can interpret to others.

  • Be aware of the sense of being overwhelmed many feel when not understanding the language or use of modern devices.

  • Affirm the significant contributions they have made to the church.

  • Avoid immediately dismissing or patronizing their voice

  • Realize that they are still in the process of sanctification. God is still moving and helping them in discipleship.

May God honor our prayers as we pray for wisdom and courage and energy for the living of these days.