Wineskins Archive

February 27, 2017

Change (Image Vol 12 No 4 – July/Aug 1996)

Filed under: — @ 11:30 am and

By Jack Exum
Lake City, Florida

This is more of a personal letter than an article. I have been a Christian since the age of twelve. My father was an elder and a business executive. Our family of nine grew up in the Central Church in Miami, Florida. J. Roy Vaughn was our minister. Over the course of fifty years I have been a preacher of the Gospel, a missionary, and an author. For the last twenty-one years, I have also been involved in the “Three Unusual Days” ministry. For the first time in all of those years, I have heard brethren seriously talk about change. Some positive, but many negative thoughts and ideas are being discussed. Buzz words like “change agent” are almost reminiscent of the old KGB. Issues come and go, but issues are really not the issues. Who you handle the issue is the real issue, and balance is the answer.

Articles (including this one), bulletins, and books headline the theme. Seminars declare it and lectureships include it. Reactions to it are many and varied. Our human traditions and methods have placed the church in stasis for decades; yet we have agreed, in principle, that traditions and methods do not save – Jesus saves! It was the Christ who said, “Upon this rock I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18), and he continues to build it today and will do so till the end of time.

While I cannot speak for others (commending or condemning), I can speak in general for our local church family. We have changed and are continuing to change – here’s how:

When the Central congregation began many years ago (with thirteen members), and the leadership had a clear vision as to direction and destiny. They foresaw the church becoming a true spiritual family – every member serving under the leadership of Christ. Jesus would be the focus and center of our teaching, and each believer would find the freedom that the Holy Spirit brings in Christ (2 Cor. 3:17). Power, control, authority, prestige, place, and honor would be reserved for him who sits at the right hand of God (Rev. 5:12). In a way, we chose to get out of the “judging each other” business, believing that “the ground is all level at the foot of the cross.” This leveling process allowed each of us to “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might” (Eph. 6:10). This freedom to think, talk, ask questions, differ, hug, communicate, love with abandon, pray, sing and shout praises to God, and even verbalize the words like “Amen,” “Praise God,” and “Hallelujah” was not “allowed” or given; it was just accepted and received.

In these freedoms, we have now found the liberty to change. For one thing, we are learning to feel our emotions. Tears are often shed and laughter is wonderful. We are also growing in the understanding that every person is vital and needed. These changes have brought a peace and a joy that is difficult to explain. Our children see this and reflect it in their own personal lives. It’s contagious and powerful. Paul wrote, “And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7). This “peace of God” and change of heart has worked wonderful changes in our congregation.

Now when our family draws together each Lord’s day, we do so for the sole purpose of praising God in worship. No longer do we use that precious time to evangelize the world. We now believe that evangelism is done primarily outside of the church building, not inside, and that saints assemble to praise and worship God. So we lift our hearts to God, and they are filled with his Spirit and thus fueled to go out and bring others to Christ. Then they, too, can enjoy the marvelous experience of praising and worshiping God. We continue to have friends and other guests each week who return to learn more about this “undenominational Christianity” and to experience the beauty of worship. Many of our visitors have rejected the formal brand of religion, which is steeped in human regulations and traditions, and they are not impressed with names. What seems to attract them is rejoicing of saints who relish in the Word of God and who have bonded themselves together in “just loving” each other and any who come within their reach. This increased benevolence and new-found spontaneous enthusiasm is positive and powerful.

In a recent congregational meeting, when all the church was assembled, someone asked, “What does Central mean to you?” Come of the answers were, “Freedom,” “I look forward to every service,” “Joy,” “Jesus,” “Openness,” “A strong feeling of personal worth,” “Informal,” “Why can’t we meet every day?” “Loving,” “Caring,” “Accepted without question,” “Hugs,” and on and on they went. Experiencing these emotions and expressing them in words is a change for many of our people. The emotions were there all the time, waiting to be uncovered, enjoyed, and lived. “And he went on his way rejoicing” reflects the end result of our meetings (Acts 8:39). Paul admonished, “Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 6:23).

Since we believe that the New Testament expresses the principle of congregational autonomy, we simply pick and choose the methods and traditions that best serve the needs of our church family. What other congregations do or refuse to do is not our primary concern. The real question we have is, “What is best for us?” We have congregational meetings to discuss these matters, where we can all express ourselves freely. As this process continues, we continue to change and grow. This is the liberty expressed in “congregational autonomy.”

A year ago, we decided to dedicate ourselves to prayer. Of course we were already praying, but we felt a need to focus on and emphasize this power in our lives. Now we begin each Bible study on Sundays and Wednesday nights with a special period of prayer.

Specific prayer requests are taken. People, place, events, and problems fill a large blackboard, and specific prayers are offered. Knees are bent, tears are shed, and prayers are expressed openly and unashamedly. We want to be a praying people. Our new emphasis and effort have changed our group prayer time, and our personal prayer lives have been enlarged and advanced as well.

In 1995, the congregation learned one hundred new songs. They are contemporary, and unlike many of the grand old songs that speak of God in the third person, most of the new songs of praise speak to God in the first person. This change has made us far more conscious of his presence in our lives and in our assemblies. While we sing a combination of both old and new, learning these new songs has led us in a true revival of praise and worship. Additional time was added to our meetings to allow more songs to be sung. It is generally agreed that we feel closer to God in communal singing than in any other part of the service. The singing is powerful, the preaching is positive, and our penitent hearts than God for “so great a salvation.”

“How did we learn all those new songs?” you ask. We have a group of volunteer singers who meet after each Sunday and Wednesday night service for about an hour to learn and practice new songs. One of our members, who reads and knows music, works with this group. Then at the services, the groups stands and helps the congregation learn the new songs. Generally, eight are chosen fro the group, with two individuals singing each part, and the song leader directs them and the rest of the assembly in song. Our song services are challenging, thrilling, inspiring, and uplifting. Our singing has improved 1,000 percent. we still sing a cappella, but now the auditorium fills with a joy and praise we never has before.

Change in natural, inevitable, and imperative. It is based on positive leadership and education, and while it should come gradually, it is a must. In our congregation we have old timers, baby-boomers, baby-busters, young unmarrieds, divorcees, teenagers, and children. each group sees life from a different view. Each group has its own needs. Since it is literally impossible to fully meet the needs of any one group without neglecting the others, we try to provide an atmosphere of family, where ach person can feel free and secure. Physical families function in the same way – while no one in the family has all of his or her wants satisfied ideally, there is a silent equality and an overall joy that fills the home. The need to share and to feel loved, appreciated, and accepted are common to us all. Besides being met in our physical families, these needs should also be met within the functional family of God.

In 1996 we are dedicated to becoming better servants. At Central we do not fear change, we use it! While the Gospel of Christ is unchangeable and will always be the “power of God to save” (Rom. 1:16), methods and traditions are options for change. An abnormal fear (phobia) of change is just as damaging as changing without purpose or direction. What is best for us at Central is what will help us in our ongoing efforts to grow into the image of Jesus (2 Cor. 3:18).

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