March 3, 2016 by Chuck Lawless (Dean of Doctoral Studies and Vice-President of Spiritual Formation and Ministry Centers at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, NC)
Let me start this post with two caveats. First, I’m an older adult (55), but I’m still years away from retirement. Ten years from now, I might think differently than I do now, though I doubt it. Second, I’m not arguing that we need to change everything. I’m not talking about compromising the gospel here. There is much good we can learn from older generations, and each generation needs the others. Nevertheless, here are some reasons we older folks in church need to be willing to change.
- What we do as believers is not about us in the first place. Nor is it about young people, either, by the way. It’s about honoring God in such a way that others might want to follow Him. Our preferences we tend to defend don’t matter as much when we get that point right.
- Change may be uncomfortable, but we know it’s not always bad. We didn’t always have a clock . . . or a car . . . or a computer . . . or robotic instruments used in surgery. If we’re honest, we know that some change actually promotes good, including in the church. I’m glad, for example, that we can use technology to reach people we wouldn’t have opportunity to reach twenty years ago.
- Few changes are actually as painful as we think they’re going to be. Quite often, what we project will happen when the change occurs is not what actually happens. Once we get through the seeming “trauma” of change, the new routine is often okay.
- Our legacy depends on it. Let me be frank: if many churches don’t change, they are going to die. The problem is that nobody thinks it’s going to happen on his or her watch – but my generation will likely see tens of thousands of churches close. To allow a congregation to die just because we like things the way they are is nothing less than unchristian selfishness.
- Our children and grandchildren need our example. They don’t know it yet, but the young people calling for change now will be old themselves some day. We need to model for them today how to navigate change well for the sake of the gospel.
- An unwillingness to change reveals our idolatries. That’s a tough word, I know. But, anything not mandated by Scripture that we are unwilling to change for God’s glory is an idol. That’s a problem.
- The nations need us to sacrifice. If we don’t reach young people, we’ll someday have no pool out of which to send the next generation of pastors and missionaries. To reach those next generations, we must be willing to change without compromising the gospel.
If you’re an older reader, I really do get it. The older I get, the less I like change. On the other hand, I also more intensely recognize the urgency to reach people as I get older. We get only one shot at this work, and I don’t want my preferences (and, sometimes, my stubbornness) to hinder the work of the gospel.
I can tolerate change if people are reached and lives are transformed. Accept and rejoice with the change, even. It’s really that simple.