Pastors often ask me, “How do we get our churches to change?” Too
many ministers have alienated their churches trying to bring change. Some have
even been fired.
Still, as shepherds, we must lead our churches to change, even though such
change will often be difficult. Here’s a few suggestions about how to
bring change: teach, stay and love.
Teach to change
First, our ideas for our churches should come from Scripture. That makes the
pulpit the most powerful tool for changing a church. Regular expositional preaching
of Scripture is how God’s Spirit normally works in human hearts.
Pray that through your preaching, God will teach your church how it needs
to change. It is amazing how often we pastors want to fix problems before we’ve
given time to explaining the problems!
Too many pastors try to force change in their church—often defended
as leadership—when they should try to inform the church. Brothers, we
should feed the sheep entrusted to our care, not beat them. Teach them.
Even if the change you envision is right, there is still the question of whether
the time is right. Being right is not a license for immediate action, which
brings me to my second point.
Stay to change
The idea of committing to one place is vanishing in the workplace and the
home. The model for younger generations is not a pre-fabricated corporate ladder,
with carefully limited pathways, but rather the mosaic of the world-wide web,
with alternatives and options seeming to spread out infinitely. We’re
being taught to value varying experiences, understanding each one as enriching
We pastors need to set a different model in our churches. We need to teach
them that commitment is good, whether that’s to our marriages and families,
our friends and our faith, or our church and our neighborhood. It is in the
light of such longer-term commitments (thinking in terms not of months, but
of decades) that we can help our churches find their right priorities.
As a pastor, your greatest power to help your congregation change comes not
through your forceful personality, but through years of faithful, patient teaching.
Changes that don’t happen this year may come next year, or in ten.
To that end, choose your battles wisely, carefully prioritizing one needed
change over another. Which of the changes that are needed is most needed right
now? Which can wait? Generally speaking, pastors need to learn how to think
in a mature, long-range way.
Long pastorates help the pastor, too. They keep him from coming with a bag
of tricks, doing his thing for two or three years, and then moving on. Generally,
the longer we stay, the more real we have to be—and that’s good
for our own souls and for those we serve.
The key to change is to stay in one church long enough to teach the congregation.
If you don’t plan on staying, then be careful before starting something
that the next guy is going to have to finish. Don’t leave the congregation
hardened against you or your successor, or even against the change itself.
As a young seminarian, I took three Cambridge Anglican clergymen as my models.
All had expositional ministries in key locations stretching over many years—Richard
Sibbes (in Cambridge and London for 30 years), Charles Simeon (in Cambridge
for over 50 years), and John Stott (in London for over 50 years). By the grace
of God, all three of these men built the church they served, and effected the
rising ministerial generations by their long faithfulness.
Love to change
To desire the right changes, to teach about them, and to stay long enough,
you must love. You must love the Lord, and you must love the people whom he
has entrusted to you.
Clement of Rome said, “Christ belongs to the lowly of heart, and not
to those who would exalt themselves over his flock.” From love comes
the patient care that again and again turns the congregation to the Word of
Jonathan Edwards was no less faithful a pastor because his congregation dismissed
him. Some of us have had short and faithful pastorates. But these are not my
concern here. With this short piece, I have simply tried to raise in your mind
some ideas of how you may—by teaching, staying, and loving—lead
your congregation in biblical change.
Mark Dever is the senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington,
DC, and is the author of Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (Crossway, 2001).
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