After presenting to a group of pastors on reshaping the practice of the church for mission, I have led a closing session on several occasions in which I ask pastors to share their top reasons for why “this will never work.”
I was in Nebraska last spring leading a pastors’ workshop for American Baptist pastors. During this session, one pastor gave me his top 10 reasons in written form.
I think they are great, though I must apologize to the pastor who wrote this list because I do not recall his name.
The list is instructive as to what blocks congregations from change. The pastor’s reasons are listed below, followed by my comments and responses to each reason.
1. “We’ve never done it that way before!”
Perhaps that’s possibly why you should consider the need to do this. Change requires doing something different than what has gone on before.
2. Unbelief in God’s power and presence.
If we would lead change at all, ministers must lead people into Christ’s presence via prayer and the Lord’s Supper. It is the foundation of all transformation in the church.
3. “We tried that before and it didn’t work.”
We must ask ourselves what does it mean for something “to work” in God’s church, and how long we might have to wait to see it happen. God is so excessively patient.
4. They don’t understand that the world and approach to ministry have changed.
Sometimes we must start with the ones who do see, as opposed to the whole congregation. This may be only two or three people.
Jesus started with 12, not the whole nation of Israel. The small group’s lives then disrupted the enclosed status quo of the whole congregation and opened up space for revolution.
5. Lack of compassion or identification with the world.
Compassion for and presence in the world comes from seeing God at work in the world. The leader’s primary task is to proclaim the good news that God is already at work in the world waiting for us to join in.
6. We’re too small, and we don’t have enough money.
I have found that when we reach out to be “with” the hurting, God works in ways that take very little money. But people need to see it to believe it.
7. Fear of how it might change the church.
Fear of change, inertia within the comfortable, is something leaders must always deal with and not get discouraged about. If it weren’t there, there’d be no need for leaders or change either.
8. Fear of “the other.” What if they actually come to our church?
We must give people time to be changed by the “least of these” in our midst. It’s a miracle to behold if we can encourage people to stay in the tension long enough for it to happen.
9. Overdependence on the pastoral role – “That’s his/her job!”
My recommendation is that pastors should develop another vocation or skill that they can earn money from in preparation for a bivocational ministry.
Then propose a pay cut, lower their responsibilities and force the church to become a living social body of Christ in the world.
10. Lack of Imagination.
It takes leaders filled with imagination for what God is doing to lead a church there. And this imagination is funded not by preaching expository, self-help sermons for a better Christian life in America.
Instead, let the pulpit be the place we declare the good news of what God’s doing around us and invite people into that.
What other hurdles do you face in leading change in your church body? What responses might you have to this list?
David Fitch is the Betty R. Linder chair of evangelical theology at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Reclaiming the Mission, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @fitchest.
David E. Fitch (PhD, Northwestern University) is the B. R. Lindner Chair of Evangelical Theology at Northern Seminary and the cofounder of Missio Alliance. He is the founding pastor of Life on the Vine Christian Community, a missional church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, and is currently on the pastoral staff at Peace of Christ Church in Westmont, Illinois.