Transforming Church Team Blog
resourcing leaders…reenvisioning the future

What Does the Past have to do with Change? (Part 1 of 2)

 

John Holm

John Holm

Change happens.  You can fight change but you can’t stop it.  Without change, organizations die.  These and many other saying about change are often thrown around by consultants and proponents of change.  They are true.  We have recently seen how the inability of GM to change over the last 30-50 years has now caught up with them.  Things changed in the car industry and they did not.  They simply were living in their past glory, thinking that if they just did more of what made them successful in the past (and did it even better) that they would rise again to glory.  Many churches in the U.S. have had the same relationship with change.  Culture has changed, yet churches have not embraced changing along the way to address how to live out God’s mission in the world.  Many churches continue to simply try to do what they did in the past, in the same way they did it – but only “better.”  But doing the same thing “better” is not change. 

I am working with a church that had been on target for mission and had faithfully carried out their mission in the 1950’s – 1980’s.  Then a slow decline took hold.  Today, they are nothing like they once were.  Recognizing that fact, they brought in an expert to tell them what change needed to happen.  The expert told them to jettison the past, loose the dead weight and do many new things that research showed were the trends in growing churches.  They brought in a new pastor who did just that.  He discounted their identity from the past and tried to create a new and exciting identity for the future.  After some initial excitement (and anger) the “new thing” began to stall out.  Interestingly enough, when I read the recommendations of the “expert” I saw many great ideas that I have seen work in many places.  So why didn’t they work?  What was holding them back?

One of the great and early heresies in the church was Marcionism.  Marcion held that a new thing was being done in Jesus Christ (true).  He also taught that the past (the Hebrew God and God Yahweh) was bad and of a lower realm than was Jesus and the new way (not true).  When Marcion looked back, all he could see was a God of wrath and judgment.  When he looked at Jesus he saw mercy and grace.  Marcion sought to move forward in Jesus by demonizing the past.  Of course the church understood that God and God’s values and promises of mercy and grace have always been the same and will always be the same.  There is abundant mercy and grace in the Hebrew scriptures and instead of severing the connection with the past we need to begin where Jesus began.  In Matthew 5:17 Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not t0 abolish but to fulfill.”  Things were changing drastically in and through Jesus Christ.  God and God’s promises of mercy and grace were not new – just the way that God was going to make manifest that mercy and grace was new.  Jesus brought change like no other ever seen before, but he stood on the foundations of the past mercy and grace which are the very identity of God.  Jesus, being a faithful Jew, understood the core identity of God proclaimed to Moses in Exodus 34:6:  The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”  Jesus also new the core identity of the people of God when he proclaimed to the lawyer in Matthew 22:  He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”  Jesus did a very new thing by becoming human, suffering and dying on the cross to bring us mercy and grace.  But when Jesus did the new thing he stood on the foundational values and identity of God that had always been present. Change in the local congregation needs to look backward before venturing forward.                                                                                          

So, what does the past have to do with changing for the present and future?

 Simply living in the past as the culture changes brings failure.

  1. Simply rejecting and severing connects to the past brings failure.
  2. Knowing the core identity and values of the past is key to beginning a new thing.

 So how do congregations know what to preserve about the past and know what needs to change?  More on that in Part 2!  In the meantime, I would love your input regarding this topic.  Please click on comments up near the title of this blog.

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