Change For the Sake Of Change? (Mar – Aug 1994)

By Matt Dabbs

by Rubel Shelly
March – August, 1994

Traditional wisdom holds that there is no value to change for its own sake. As with any number of elements of “traditional wisdom,” however, there is good reason to question such a dictum.

Of course the gospel message and divine appointments for the people of God cannot be changed. But what about methodologies? What about customary procedures for doing things? What about things that define our personal “comfort zones”?

In my observations of thriving local churches, I have observed for several years that change for the sake of change is usually a good thing. For example, I work with a church whose Worship Committee never uses the same order of worship from one Sunday to the next. Was it unsettling when such a procedure was initiated? Yes. Were there complaints? Yes. And the unsettledness and complaints were proof positive that moving away from predictability was overdue. Some of us had come to think that the way it had always been done was the only way it could be done with God’s favor.

It seems to be human nature that we confuse content with form, “essentials” with “non-essentials.” One of the reasons this happens is that we equate familiar things with right things. Thus the way I am accustomed to seeing or doing a thing becomes the only way a thing can be done.

The first time I witnessed a solo presentation of music in an assembly, I was offended. Upon reflection, I realized that what had been challenged that day was neither Scripture nor propriety but my limited range of experience. More recently still, it has dawned on me that singing is not per se an “element of worship” at all. Ephesians 5:19 requires that Christians speak praise and admonition to one another, and singing is one method of carrying out the requirement. If any form of the church’s speaking may be done solo (e.g., preaching), then all other forms (e.g., singing) may be done the same way.

The first time I saw a woman stand in a pulpit to speak during a church assembly was when I had preached in a revival service for a black congregation. Two women came down different aisles of the building, the local evangelist spoke with each of them, and he then led them together onto the stage. He explained that two sisters who had caused each other and the church considerable strife because of a personal clash between them had come to confess their sin. He then stepped aside, and both of the women tearfully expressed their regret for their sinful behavior. That was different from my write-it-on-a-card invitation response tradition. It was so obviously right, though, that I have adopted the procedure on many occasions since.

Whenever someone other than an elder makes an announcement and there is a protest, you can be sure that a perfectly good practice of having elders make announcements has become a liability. It has led someone to think that no one but elders have the right to share information. Whenever someone (likely a visitor!) raises her hands during a song of praise and someone goes to the preacher to demand that a sermon against hand-raising be preached, custom has become law for the protesting party.

We have been guilty of stifling creativity and imposing limits where God has not by letting habit establish the norms in our churches. Maybe it would be a good idea to change something that is rather inconsequential as a test. If it reveals that a group is wed to tradition as though it were a divine norm, notice has been served that something has gone badly wrong.

So, yes, I believe in change for the sake of change. I believe in it for the sake of creating a mindset of openness and flexibility. If we do not cultivate such a spirit within a group of people, then attempting to change anything that is truly significant will never work. The attempt will throw the group into chaos and cripple its functioning.

It is surely better, then, to establish a mindset that is open to reform and change as norms rather than obstinance and intractability. When meaningful change is needed, the former mindset will have become the background for bringing it about. The latter will produce more fruitless battles in tradition-bound churches.New Wineskins

Rubel Shelly

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1584 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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