Creating a church culture of growth and change is a challenging one. We can struggle to change the direction of the church community, we can find resistance where we don’t expect. To change direction or an activity of the church we may need to change the very culture of the whole body.
One of the last times I spoke with my grand-mother she said something simple but profound. She was sitting next to my grand-father alongside me and my wife. Since they had been married over 50 years we asked them about love and how to sustain a marriage.
Her response was beautiful, “We have learned not to be too set in our own ways.”
This is the lesson of love, “give up our exact ways of doing things, in order for the others to flourish”.
So, how do we create an atmosphere where change is possible?
I have spent time ministering in churches in East London, in Denmark and Finland. There is a striking resemblance and atmosphere in all the churches that have changed and grown healthily. I would recognise that I still need to cultivate these things in my life and congregation but these are my observations of healthy community that I long to see in my small church in Denmark.
ONE: Believe in the resurrection
There is really no change in us that is lasting if it doesn’t draw its power from the resurrection life. We need to get a fresh taste of what Jesus' resurrection means for each of us, to then activate this in our community. A community that is practicing resurrection is doing so because it has centered itself around this reality. At the heart of any new reality is an outworking of resurrection. Sadly, we can become apathetic towards the resurrection having heard the story so many times. The resurrection isn’t just a story but a present reality. We have to believe and have faith, that God always has more for us. There is more resurrection life to be experienced than we ever dare to imagine.
TWO: Talk about hope for tomorrow
When things are bleak and seem hopeless we must remind ourselves and others that change is possible and nothing is impossible for God. We need to talk with one another about hope and potential. We get discouraged so easily or lose sight of what God is doing, that we need reminders from friends, pastors or mentors. Tell the good stories. Pete Greig says that we need to find the sparks of God and pour gasoline on them. This gasoline is the testimonies and prayers that the wider community can share. Testimonies and prayers are the fuel in our hope-fire.
THREE: Practice 'Relentless optimism'.
When life knocks us down in small or big ways, we can be held back by disqualifying ourselves. The relentless optimistic gospel is this, God took our sins, our wounds, our sickness, our longings, our brokenness and put it all on the cross - on the cross we don’t have to carry them ourselves. So, there is ground for optimism in all of us. Do not misunderstand this as positive psychology or make believe reality but a new perspective on our circumstances in light of our saving God.
Optimism is like a pair of glasses we can practice to put on, and see life through.
FOUR: Challenge the comfort of fatalistic self-pity
“I’m no good at this.”
“No one would want me there”
“They don’t like me”
“I’m not pretty enough for them”.
There is a false sense of comfort in self-pity and I have called it fatalistic self-pity since it can seem like a fate you cannot escape.
We need to allow those broken records in our minds to be challenged if we want an atmosphere where change is possible.
Like Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 10:5, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ”.
FIVE: Make room for the Holy Spirit
We believe in a God, who lives in us and about whom it is said, “He is like the wind, it blows where ever it pleases”. There is an uncontrollable element to God. This isn’t the belief that God is not in control, but that he is not under our control. Therefore we need to be able to change the sails and shift the direction, when we live dependent on him. So being aware of the spirits move is a good way to create an atmosphere where change is possible.
SIX: Be 'Incessant tinkerers'
Rick Warren once said at the HTB leadership Conference, “We do the best that we can, with what we have got today.”
God has not made us perfect…. yet. With this in mind we must work to give God the best we can with what we have got to hand today. And if that is our aim, it is helpful to be ‘Incessant tinkerers’ as we always look for small ways to improve what God has given us. He did not give Israel a temple, but artists and architects to work and create. People who became good at their trade do so because they have kept improving the skills they had been given by God. This mind-set should protect us against the feeling that 'we have arrived, we have figured it all out and we are done' as we tinker and play with what we do have.
SEVEN: A culture of Love
Change is hard, but it is possible by God's grace and because of His love. We have to first be dependent on his love, as we then love others who might stand opposed to change. Love is the key culture piece that sets a whole new agenda for a community. Lovers care enough for everyone else that they don’t wish to fight for their own needs but the needs of the whole. It's a life of love that defines a disciple as we become more like the one who is first love.