However, when we ask about survival of the church, we need to ask what it means for a church to survive, why it should survive, and how it should survive. This weeks perspectives follows on from last weeks topic, and asks whether change is needed for survival.
I have noticed over the years that within the church people react to change in very different ways.
Some people seem upset by even the slightest change and others will happily try anything new – the more outrageous the better!
It follows that if change is not managed well it can easily divide the congregation. It also follows that those people who struggle with change need to be careful that they do not hinder the work of God when a change is needed. On the other hand those people who love any change need to make sure they know why the change they want is necessary.
So why then do we want to change things in the church? One good reason is that what we do in the church might be unfamiliar to the people we want to draw in or worse still may be totally irrelevant to them.
Those of us who have been around for a while need to have the courage to ask why we do things alike we do and does it still communicate what we think it communicates.
An example could be robes worn by clergy. About twenty years ago I realized that these robes were a hindrance to some of the people we were trying to reach so I stopped wearing them at one of the Sunday services. Some will think this is a big change and others will see it as trivial.
What are the really big things we need to change? How will we know what they are? These are questions I believe we should be asking?
Absolutely not. And of course yes! Change in the church must not happen, but it is essential that it must.
Makes sense? Well, the question needs to be clarified -- what are we really considering? Well, there are three categories where change may occur:
1. The fundamental elements of our faith: if we change these then we are making a religion out of our preferences. So NO, this must not change.
2. Our collective expression of our fundamental faith: the model for this is Jesus. Through the ages wherever Jesus has strongly moved, His people changed their expression for the purposes of reaching others. Think Paul in 1 Cor 9, or think the hymn writers using the musical style of the day, or ...
3. The action of the individuals in the church: the apathy and preservation of preference that is prevalent in the western church, is killing it. The attitude that expects non-believers to fight through the ritual and language to find God, flies in the face of Jesus' command "go and make disciples" ... He expects us to go and meet the people where they are, not wait for them to find us. What we do in church that undermines this needs to change.
If Jesus was in charge of our church (he is, theoretically), would he do everything the way we do. I doubt it very much.
But Jesus says we must become like Him.
Thus, if by "the survival of the church" we mean a Jesus-honoring community and not the institution, then we must consider how we collectively and individually are out of step with being Jesus to the world.
If we don't, then as a visible presence of Christ in the city we will die.
This is a very easy question to answer. In fact, I would use a phase not commonly known in my home country (the U.S.A.) that South African’s seem to love… it’s a “no-brainer”!! No… the Church will not survive if it does not adapt… and change.
This year I celebrate my big 60. I tell you this to give this blog a time context. In my short life it is interesting to reflect back on some pretty major changes made by the wider church. For instance, I clearly remember the controversy around the move in the Catholic church from Latin only services… to ones held in the local vernacular. Similarly, I remember the stir that was created in the 1960’s when we first heard about “folk music masses” being held in the same church.
As I reflect on the topic, I am extremely grateful for visionary men & women in the church who dared to make bold changes. As a small child, the King James Version of the Bible was the only translation found in my home. But as a teenager, I was so enriched by translations like “Good News For Modern Man”…and JB Philips Bibles. To be able to read the Bible in modern English made a huge impact on my spiritual life.
As someone who loves music, I am also grateful to the spiritual leaders over the years that saw the need to adapt the instrumentation used in worship to align with popular culture. While I love classical music and the church organ, I must confess a well-constructed electric guitar riff can quickly send my heart soaring in genuine Worship.
It has also been a rich source of blessing to me to investigate other forms of worship which are new to the church. For instance, I belonged to a church that had a worship dance team… where creative dance choreography was offered up as worship. I have also always had an appreciation of Fine Art… and it is spiritually uplifting to see Christians today share their faith with the use of oils, charcoals and canvas. I know another Christian whose main form of outreach is created through the lens of his digital camera.
My prayer is that we, at St Barnabas church, will constantly ask ourselves how we can communicate our faith in fresh, new and impactful ways. I also pray that we will have the boldness to “break from tradition” and “the way it has always been done” to explore new expressions of our Faith.