“When the Spirit breaks in, old ways of thinking and living are left behind
and new ways of thinking and living begin to take over.
Old boring, oppressive, and dead social structures and institutions are transformed
into exciting new, liberating ones. It may not happen all at once,
but when the Holy Spirit comes there is the dawn of a new day,
hope for a new and different future, and courage and strength to move toward it.”
Shirley C. Guthrie, Christian Doctrine
These words are from an old seminary textbook I had during my seminary days more than twenty-five years ago. Yet, they still speak with freshness to the church today.
The author was my professor of Reformed Theology. He continued to challenge his students to look for the activity of the Holy Spirit in the church. He also challenged his students to look for obstacles that good church people continually put in place to prevent a fresh work of the Spirit. Idolatry, Guthrie taught, was evident in Christian churches as well as in secular culture. Idolatry was simply placing our hope and security in something that is familiar and fixed; something other than the God of the Bible who is always mixing things up.
We don’t like change very much. This is especially true in the church. Guthrie observed that when the world changes rapidly around us, we seek refuge and protection from the unfamiliar in the church. Problem is, says Guthrie, if you don’t like change, you won’t much like God either. God is always mixing things up. Pay close enough attention to the Bible and you will hear again and again, “I am accomplishing a new thing!”
Your church leaders, the Elders, are continually called to prayer and discernment of what God is up to in our church. The natural result is a visioning and planning process that most certainly results in changes in how we do ministry over time. If we didn’t intentionally plan for change, we should not be surprised if we continue to get more of the same; same level of church membership, same level of worship attendance, same level of financial support for God’s mission in the world.
I believe that it was Jim Collins who mentioned that the reason a major railroad company experienced rapid decline in profits at one point was that it never realized what business it was in. The company thought it was in the railroad business when, in fact, it was in the transportation business. As the transportation business demanded new models, the railroad stubbornly stuck to running a railroad business and almost bankrupt. The church must remember what business it is in, lest it also bankrupts. We are in the business of making disciples for Jesus Christ and the way we once did that may no longer be effective.