A thought on change

Not all change is improvement, but without change there can be no improvement.


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101 Ways to Discourage Your Pastor

How many Christians are aware of the passage in the New Testament,
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (ESV, Hebrews 13:17)?  Okay, forget about how many. What about you? Were you aware of that verse? If you were aware, have you given it much thought?

When searching for a publisher for The Perfect Pastor? one major publishing house said that “You won’t find anyone who would give you a nanosecond of a New York minute to read about (the life and work of) pastors.”  Sad, but apparently true.

Pastors are definitely called to serve in Christ’s local church. One aspect of that servitude is an attitude or response to these servants that often come with the calling. That attitude or response that is not dissimilar to how things are perceived:  You must be there when I need you. Until then I don’t think much about you. And I certainly do not need to be concerned about your joy.

The latest studies reveal that thousands of pastor leave their churches every month. And hundreds of those pastors leave the ministry altogether. The average duration of a pastor in full-time, remunerative ministry is five years. And it’s 13-18 months for the youth minister. There are many reasons for this, but one of the biggest reasons is the lack of hope.  The lack of hope that perhaps his gifts are of value, that his work and service is meaningful and purposeful, and that he is appreciated as a person and as a pastor. It is rare to find a pastor who really has a deep sense that he is appreciated or is wanted.

Now, my objective here is not to evaluate the above statements. Rather, my concern has to do with the fact that there are responsibilities God has called the church to with regard to their pastor(s).  One of which has to do with seeing to it that the church lets them serve as overseers and shepherds with joy!

A previous blog speaks to how to encourage your pastor. I want to suggest typical ways people and churches discourage their pastor, how they rob their pastor(s) of joy. Here is an incomplete list:

1. Treat him as if he is the messiah, expecting him to save your life.

2. Reject him when he doesn’t save the day.

3. Demand that he meet your so-called needs and your personal desires.

4. Be angry or disappointed when he does not do what you want him to do.

5. Be angry or disappointed when he does not do what you have told him to do.

6. Be angry or disappointed when his family does not meet your approval.

7. Be angry or disappointed when his family does not meet your expectations.

8. Be rude toward his wife.

9. Be rude toward his children.

10. Be critical about his wife and/or children.

11. Be critical toward his wife and/or children.

12.Expect his wife to be better and more perfect than other women in the church.

13. Expect his children to be better and more perfect than you expect your own.

14. Find ways to drain the life out of his wife and/or children.

15. Shun his wife and/or his children.

16. Impose nonbiblical legalisms on him, his wife and his children.

17.Do not allow his wife to develop friendships within the church.

18. Do not allow his wife to develop her own set of friends.

19. Complain about him to his wife.

20. Complain about him to his children.

21. Have selfish, ungodly, nonbiblical or unbiblical expectations of him.

22.Tell him how to dress (explicitly or by subtle criticisms).

23. Tell him what to eat or not eat.

24. Show little or no love for him.

25. Work him to death.

26. Add nonbiblical or unbiblical requirements to his job description.

27. Add your own expectations to the list of things he does.

28. Pressure him to be performance oriented, focusing on things rather than upon people or God.

29. Do not give him time to do the things required and mandated by God and God’s Word.

30. Keep him over-busy. Drain the life out of him.

31. Tell him you believe he is doing enough, but then give him more things to do.

32. Tell him how your previous pastor(s) was better at doing things than he is.

33. Tell him how your previous pastor(s) was better at being a pastor or a godly man.

34. Show disrespect for him. Dishonor his role and position.

35. Expect him to be your close friend.

36. Do not allow him or his family the freedom to develop their own personal and private lives.

37. Refuse to listen to his biblical and godly counsel.

38. Refuse to follow his biblically informed vision.

39. Reject or refuse to support his biblically informed mission.

40. Show disloyalty to him.

41. Often compare him to other pastors, preachers and teachers.

42. Come to him with articles, books, DVDs or other materials to show him how he is to think and be like those other “good” men.

43. Be bored with or unsupportive of his teaching.

44. Sleep often during the sermons.

45. Tell him or others how much you appreciate other teachers, but never tell him you appreciate him.

46. Tell him or others how much you like to listen to other pastors (especially the popular ones), but do not really care to hear your own pastor.

47. Take as much from him as possible and never or rarely give back to him (and his family).

48. Rarely or never use your spiritual gifts to serve him or help him grow or to bless him.

49. Tell him how to preach.

50. Tell him how to teach.

51. Tell him how to lead.

52. Tell him how to counsel.

53. Tell him how to evangelize.

54. Tell him who to evangelize.

55. Tell him how to pray.

56. Imply or tell him he is not doing enough.

57. Imply or tell him he is not doing the right things.

58. Imply or tell him he is not doing things right.

59. Criticize the worship.

60. Argue with him in meetings.

61. Cut him down in front of others in the church.

62. Complain about the fellowship in the church, and expect him to fix all the problems.

63. Grumble about the numerical growth or lack thereof.

64. Tell him how to spend his time, even his spare time.

65. Resist his desire to disciple you.

66. Resist his biblical admonition, counsel or rebuke.

67. Don’t allow him to have spare time.

68. Call him on his vacation time.

69. Don’t give him vacation time.

70. Give him little vacation time.

71. Never give him a sabbatical, even if he has been at church for many years.

72. Do not pay him a decent salary (which ought to be the average or mean income of the church membership)

73. Interrupt his prayer time to satisfy your wants.

74. Interrupt his study time to satisfy your wants.

75. Restrict or find ways to keep him from growing mentally.

76. Restrict or find ways to keep him from growing spiritually.

77. Do not support or encourage his desire to do continuing education (at conferences, school or seminary).

78. Restrict or find ways to keep him from having fellowship with others who can build him up.

79. Lie about him.

80. Use the truth to slander him and his reputation.

81. Help to spread rumors about him.

82. Gossip and complain about him.

83. Be more favorable toward the assistant, associate, intern or youth minister than toward him.

84. Find ways to put division between him and the assistant, associate, intern or youth minister.

85. Tell him or others how much you wish he was like a previous pastor or your favorite pastor or one of the big named and popular pastor.

86. Complain to him regularly.

87. Rarely or never be kind to him.

88. Reject his kindnesses.

89. Be intentionally inconsiderate.

90. Be rude to him.

91. Embarrass him.

92. Make fun of him.

93. Be angry with him. Show anger, resentment and hostility toward him.

94. Keep a running account of all the negative, wrong or sinful things he has said or done.

95. Rejoice when something bad happens to him.

96. Rarely or never put on a best construct regarding him, his life and work.

97. Be impatient with him.

98. Expect him to be hospitable, while you are rarely or never hospitable.

99. Be critical of his wife.

100. Expect his wife to be a second pastor.

101. Impose unbiblical expectations upon his wife (she “must” be the pianist, music leader, Bible study teacher, nursery worker, etc.)or upon his children.

In other words, do all that you can to rob him of the joy God wants him to have in his service to God and God’s people. Rob him of the encouragement God tells you to give him. Steal love that you owe him through Christ; instead suck the life out of him.


© D. Thomas Owsley  2011

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If It Ain’t Broke… (or Why Change?)

Jj recently asked, “Why change?”  A very good question.  As they say, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” The simple, and maybe obnoxious answer, would be “Why not change?”

So, allow me to begin by suggesting some rather good arguments not to change.  First, keeping things the way they are offers a level of stability for the individual and/or the group. Second, maintaining status quo provides some sense of security.  In an era of constant change and flux (in the West it is at a dizzying speed) security can be a good thing. Every person is different, and therefore there are those, for whatever the reasons, where tolerance for change is extremely low.  They need security for their emotional or mental state.  Third, concurrent with the previous two reasons, no or low change brings no or low stress. Of course I am speaking in relative terms since all of life is stressful to one degree or another. It is the capacity to deal with stress (or more properly stated – distress) that factors in to a person’s or group’s response to change.

There is another reason for not changing things, and that is the benefit(s) of tradition. Much has already been written on the good that tradition brings, so I won’t belabor the point here. Traditions inform and help to form the culture of a group. Tradition not only brings stability, security and a lack of stress to a person or group, but it offers connection to others in the past, present and even into the future. That can certainly be a good thing.

Now, back to the original question:  why change?  First, let me say that the change about which I speak has to do with the life of a person who has a saving faith in the life, death, burial, resurrection of the God-Man Jesus Christ. The God who became man to live the life of purity, holiness and righteousness on our behalf and then died to pay our debt to God so that believers would be made right in time and into eternity with God.  Even more, the change about which I speak has to do with the community of believers called the church.

When talking about change in this context I am presupposing:

1.   Not all change is good. Good change is good. Good change that is defined, described or derived from God’s Word is unquestionably good.

2.   Change is inevitable. However, from our human perspective change can be serendipitous or intentional, incidental or incredibly significant.

3.   Spiritual, social and numerical growth in the life of a person and church requires change.

4.   To get from one point to another necessitates change.

5.   To move from a sinful condition to a glorious one demands change.

6.   True, biblical reform comes through biblical change.

Not all change is good.

Good change is good. Good change that is defined, described or derived from God’s Word is unquestionably good. The history of our U.S. culture is one that reinforces the idea of progress and that all progress is positive.  Yet, as we know, not all progress is beneficial or positive.  I leave it to you to think about all the relatively good things or advances made over the past two hundred years, which have also brought challenges and problems.

For the believer in Christ and the local church, we must be careful to evaluate the “why” of change against the “what” of Scripture. For example, if our personal or corporate worship life is anemic then God clearly demands that to change. If we are being faithful to the Lord in terms of exercising the New Testament “one-another” commands then we ought not to change.  Our starting point and measurement must be what God tells us, not what the latest innovation, scheme, program, method, model, fad or trend says.

Change is inevitable.

However, from our human perspective change can be serendipitous or intentional, incidental or incredibly significant. God did not make a stagnant universe, therefore nobody lives in a stagnant environment. In his providential way, the Potter oversees his creation as it changes (shifting of the magnetic poles, the rise and fall of mountains, the blessing of rain and the curse of monstrous storms, etc.) He also manages the affairs of life from the toss of the die to the rule of dictators. In his redemptive way he is bringing history to its culmination, all in his good time and according to his ultimate design.  God works providentially and intentionally. In fact, God originally designed our planet and the universe to move from one state of glory to another (see below)!

The effect of nature’s activities bring about slight or enormous changes to us. We are more apt to accept natural events that change us than we are to accept intentional change introduced or imposed by others. And, how we perceive the change will impact our response or reaction to it.

In any case, change happens. The real question is not so much “why change” but rather what shall our response be to it?

Spiritual, social and numerical growth in the life of a person and church requires change.

We live in a created world that was intended from the beginning to move from one condition (glory)  to a better condition (glory).  This was even when God declared His original creation as good!

Original man, Adam and Eve, were required to change. How? They were to grow in knowledge of themselves and of God (this was their prophetic function). They were to learn about God, his creation, about self and others by thinking his thoughts about such things.

They were to grow in their relationship to and worship of God. This was part of their priestly function. They were also to grow in their relationship to the rest of creation as they glorified it by ruling over it as faithful and good stewards, and fashioning it according to heaven’s model. This was their kingly function. Through their God-directed and God-anointed labor they were to take the raw materials and re-form them into something beautiful and useful, and presenting the fruit of their labor to God. The moment he began to take care of the garden in the land of Eden, things changed.

As stewards they were to cultivate the earth. As stewards they were to exercise dominion over God’s creatures.  Note that the moment Adam named the animals things changes. They were to be fruitful and multiply, which of necessity breeds change! Even without the introduction of sin and evil, change would have taken place as God’s people would have re-formed creation from one condition of glory to the final consummation of all things in glory.

However, sin brought a different kind of change into the world, reversing that which was good. It corrupted the design for positive and glorious good change into a spiritual, social, and physical entropy.

God’s plan not to be undone, the redemption he brings  causes change in creation, reversing the reversal of sin. The whole point of the Bible is to record this changing dynamic in the universe, a change brought about by God’s recreative and redemptive work through Jesus Christ.

As believers in Jesus Christ and as a local church in Jesus Christ, we are being changed and we must work toward that change from sin to glory.  Granted, it is by God’s Word and Holy Spirit that true, redemptive change takes place. Nevertheless, we are told to deliberately and intentionally labor in God’s saving work as God works in and through us (Philippians 2:12-13). This process of change is, in theological and biblical language, repentance and faith. God desires, expects and demands us to put off the old by repenting and put on the new by faith. This means change.

This God-inspired and God-directed change affects our own and our church’s spiritual and social growth. For the local church this healthy maturity into Christ-likeness means growth, and often, but not always, means numerical growth.

To get from one point to another necessitates change.

This statement should be obvious. But, this statement also begs the question: to what point are we going? What’s the goal?  Ultimately the goal for the believer and the church is a state of Christ-like glory.  If the person or the church is not moving in that direction, then here is a central reason why change is important – it is because change into Christ-likeness is unquestionably necessary!  That is God’s design for us and our final destination. Anything that impedes this must be put aside, removed or destroyed.  Anything that promotes and fosters this must be accepted and employed. This then leads us to and supports the next statement:

To move from a sinful condition to a glorious one demands change.

One of the prevailing themes in the New Testament is that of repentance and faith, going from a sinful condition to that of a glorious one; moving out of the realm of old darkness into the kingdom of God’s marvelous light. To reject this demand for change is to reject Christ.  So, for one example, Hebrews makes plain that an unwillingness to repent, to mature in Christ and to take the pilgrim’s upward path toward that heavenly city will bring about God’s discipline (for true believers) or wrath (for pretenders of faith). 

True reform comes through biblical change.

Since we are called to and designed for dynamic change into Christ-likeness, then change is inevitable and required.  Personal and corporate change as those who believe in and belong to Jesus must and will take place.

This purpose of knowing Jesus Christ is to love him. To truly know him is to love him. to love him is to become and live like Christ. This is transformation and re-formation at its best. Having said this, it must be understood that transforming and reforming people and the church is not the ultimate goal.  The objective is not change for change’s sake. Sometimes we, particularly in the United States, assume that change is what we need – just because it supposedly means progress.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that.

Having been a Christian for forty years I have observed and participated in the numerous programs and models churches have used in order to change, to re-form.  There are a myriad of reasons for adopting and implementing these changes.  We can hear and read compelling arguments, such as “to make a difference in the world,” “to change the world,” “to save the church from impending death,” “to be relevant,” “to grow,” ad infinitum and often ad nauseum.Those reasons are not insufficient, and all too often bring about more harm than good.

That brings us back to the first main point: not all change is good. Good change is good. Good change that is defined, described or derived from God’s Word is unquestionably good.

So, Jj, in answer to your question, Why change?  We are to change personally and corporately because God wants us to change to become more like Jesus Christ.

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Encourage Your Pastor!

Many Christian leaders become discouraged.  The work doesn’t go as one imagines, the church doesn’t grow as one desires, lay leaders won’t cooperate with one’s leadership, people are excessively critical, or finances are down.  The list goes on and on.  Someone said that discouragement is the occupational hazard of the ministry, and Spurgeon was no exception to this rule.  As successful as he was, he still experienced discouragement, and, in his case, it often deteriorated into depression.  He became so depressed at times that he could barely function.  In his lecture on “The Minister’s Fainting Fits,” Spurgeon opened with these words: “As it is recorded that David, in the heat of battle, waxed faint, so may it be written of all the servants of the Lord.  Fits of depression come over the most of us….The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy.”

Larry J. Michael: Spurgeon on Leadership; p. 191


Discouragement and even depression are not the companions of so-called little pastors. Even the “greats” suffered such affliction.  For example:

John Calvin – Calvin received so much opposition in his first ministry at Geneva that the year before his expulsion from Geneva he went through great discouragement and depression.  Writing about this year in his life he said “Were I to tell you only the littlest things of the misfortune – what am I saying – of the adversity which virtually crushed us during the course of one year, you would hardly believe me.  I am convinced that not a day passed in which I did not long for death ten times…”

Andrew Bonar – Writing to his close friend McCheyne said, “I was very melancholy, I may say, on Saturday evening.  The old scenes reminded me of my ministry, and this was accompanied with such regret for past failures.”  He also wrote, “My ministry has appeared to me to be wanting in so many ways that I can only say of it, indescribably inadequate.”

Charles Spurgeon – at the zenith of his ministry said, “I am the subject of depressions of spirit so fearful that I hope none of you ever get to such extremes of wretchedness as I go to.”

G. Campbell Morgan – At the height of his ministry, Morgan astounded his congregation by telling them that he was a failure. As he thought over his ministry, he said, “During these ten years, I have known more of vision fading into mirages, or purposes failing of fulfillment, of things of strength crumbling away in weakness than ever in my life.


So, what can you do to encourage your pastor? Allow me to suggest some ways:

1.   Live with him in the love of Christ by loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and might.

2.  Love him in the Lord.

3.   Pray for him all the time.

4.    Let him rest.

Give him opportunities for personal and familial rest.  Be proactive to make sure he is getting spiritual, emotional, mental and physical rejuvenation.  Encourage him to take off for times of prayer, meditation and reflection.  Leave him alone during his day or days off, unless of course, it is an emergency.  Don’t rely on him to solve all your problems, so don’t keep on going to him relentlessly.  Maybe even raise some funds and send him on a cruise or a study leave.


Craig Brian Larson wrote,

Someone has said, ‘Fatigue makes cowards of us all.’ Let me rephrase that in more general terms: Physical exhaustion alters my emotional state.  What I could handle when fresh I no longer feel up to.  Difficulties that I first faced like a problem-solver full of faith now cause me to buckle at the knees.  The challenges that once energized me now terrify me.  While the presenting symptom on such occasions is emotional – depression and weakness – the real problem is physical:  low energy. (Larson, Staying Power; p. 55-56)


One day a week scarcely suffices for clergy or anyone to recharge emotionally, physically and spiritually; keep one’s home in order and in repair; and have quality and quantity family time.  Ministers do not move from glory to glory but from crisis to crisis.  Even if they took their one allotted day off, it is not enough to keep them from becoming one of those untimely funerals. (Jane Rubietta:  How to Keep the Pastor You Love; p. 54)


5.  Honor and esteem him (Phil. 2:29; 1 Thess. 5:12, 13 cp. Acts 28:9-10, 2 Cor. 7:15).

6.   Do everything you can to pump life into his soul.

Build him up, encourage him, and communicate to him in the very many ways there are, how much his service means to you.  Lift him up, inspire him, and bless him in Christ.  You will reap the residual effects for it. Be a conduit of grace, hope and love to build up your pastor.

A minister’s peace of mind is very important to the quality of his productivity in ministry. It is very difficult to be loving, gentle, and kind toward people when a small group of nitpickers are constantly at him about trivial matters that have little to do with the overall purpose of the church. It is even more difficult to be the gentle pastor, meek and mild, when the accusations leveled at him are contrived and totally false. (Greenfield, The Wounded Minister; p. 104)

7.  Be loyal to him in Christ.

Trust him when he is trustworthy.  Treat him based upon who he is in Christ and for his position as an elder in Christ’s church.

8.  Give to him as he gives to you.

Give, not merely monetary support, but give service to him and his family.  Be imaginative and think of ways you can serve your pastor: give him genuine and valuable feedback; give him moral support; give him time and prayer. Above all give him love and affection!

9.  Speak the truth in love to him and about him.

Do all you can to safeguard his name and reputation, but more than that, build up his name so that it  becomes a name of honor.  Certainly, the pastor must maintain his own reputation and integrity in Christ.  This is not an admonition for you to pretend he is honorable if he has clearly sinned and defamed the name of Christ.  But if he has a character above reproach, then uphold it, maintain it, and promote it.

And finally,

10.  Don’t covet to have your pastor be just like a pastor you admire or idolize.


© D. Thomas Owsley

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A quote on change:

“Progress is always preceded by change.
Change is always preceded by challenge.
Challenging the status quo is where leadership begins”
– Andy Stanley

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Change: Are You Fer It or Agin’ It?

There are many books on leadership. Many of those books address the issue of personal and corporate change. There are even books on the dynamics of change within an organization. Many of those resources categorize how different people in groups respond or react toward change. Most of the resources are fairly consistent with observational data, placing individuals into different segments according to how they perceive and respond to change, especially within a community setting, such as a business, volunteer organization, institution and even in churches. That being the case, the generalities are given below.

The first general category is what some (such as John Maxwell) label as the originators of change. These people are visionaries, innovators, and dreamers.  It is not so much that they are dissatisfied with the status quo as they are seeing the possibility of a positive and better future for the group. Often, true leaders fall into this segment. They represent about 2% of any given scenario of change. Please note that I am unable to find the statistical data that supports these percentages, yet I am assuming they are credible just by virtue of my own observations over the years (gee – aren’t I so post-modern?)

It’s fascinating to me to see how the stories and biographies of such people are well received – way after the change has been presented, adopted and implemented! They are not initially well received, particularly by the group or peers in which they associate!  This almost always comes out in the stories, biographies or autobiographies.

The second classification is the early recipients. These are people who accept an idea, often presented by the visionaries, innovators and dreamers, and then try to convince others to accept it. Apparently the average percentage in a given community who are like this runs around ten percent.

Then there is the majority, about 60%,  who are inclined to keep the status quo but will be influenced in either direction by the stronger influencers.   I’ve been told, and have found this to be true in the several and various churches I and my family have been a part, that it normally takes three years for a new idea (idea that would require change) to be accepted and implemented. Most originators and leaders find this delay of time to be painful.

The next group is the late adopters.  These people, about 20%, will resist change and speak against it. However, often times they will adopt the change over time if the majority supports it or because they have come to be a part of the change that has taken effect.

Finally, there are what John Maxwell calls the laggards. No matter what, they are almost always against change and always in support of the status quo. Their resistance most often creates disruption and division. Supposedly about 8% of the group fall into this category.  It would be helpful to consider their reasons for the resistance or in some cases blatant defiance. If it’s a matter of insecurity and fear, then there are means and biblical ways to speak to it.  However, if it is an issue of wanting to maintain power, or the person(s) has a history of being contentious, then you may act accordingly (and hopefully through biblical church discipline).

Now, even though these are general statistical observations, the culture of a group may be different.  We have found this to be true of local churches.  When we were involved in our second church plant we noticed that there were more than 8% of the people who were laggards. What happened is that these people invited and attracted others who wanted a place where they felt safe and secure (after they made the change from another church), and were fairly sure they would have the power to maintain what they wanted as the status quo.Change was nearly impossible until almost all of them became offended by simple changes and realized they had no power to stop them, so they changed churches.

On the other side of the equation, some individuals (leaders), are endowed with an uncanny ability to manufacture new or innovative ideas at light speed. So much so that the rest of the group can barely keep up, even if they were all early adopters!  What’s more is that often these leaders become laggards when other innovators and idea generators come along and promote their views or agendas.

Furthermore, people can align themselves in differing groups according to the idea or change. So you might discover someone who is normally an early adopter who could side with the laggards because they have a strong personal preference or even a legitimate conviction about it.

All right, you have this information and you are involved to some degree in a local church. So what?  For one, it helps to know that these group dynamics are nothing new or unusual. As my friend, Dominic, often says, “It’s a people thing, not just a church thing.” True that.  Knowing this may help to understand the tension and reactions brought about by a new idea or by the implementation of change.

Second, knowing this may help you strategize about the ways to introduce and implement something new or something needed. Some situations require immediate triage and therefore immediate change. Other scenarios might require the patience of three years in order to build not only consensus but a buy-in with the majority of the people. After all, without the real support of time, talents, money and other resources, leadership may never effect change.

Third, knowing this can be useful when talking and working with people.  To know that you may only have 10% of your community who will readily accept and run with new ideas or who will be open to change, will help you work with them to become more effective in “selling” and supporting the change. To know that most of the people will fall within a relative scale of slight to strong resistance to change may give you more patience as you diligently and systematically work with them to bring them along. Then, to know there will be those who never support the idea or change may allow you to evaluate where you are in the process and plan for the multiple contingencies that always come about.

When you find yourself in a group and a new idea is introduced or change is recommended, one insightful question you might ask is: are you for it or against it?  And then proceed accordingly.


D. Thomas Owsley © 2011

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Keep the Change! (or what’s wrong with the status quo?)

When we lived in a small town in what could be considered the deep South, there were quite a few phrases that always made me chuckle, inside my head, that is.  I often heard,

“If you can’t find it, it don’t exist.”

“If we ain’t got it, you don’t need it.”

“There ain’t no sense in messin’ things up. Things here are just fine the way they is.”

In other words, don’t disturb the status quo! This is not something one only finds in the deep south. You can observe this protective mindset in villages around the world, in towns around our country, as well as in established businesses, institutions and churches.

It was, supposedly, Ronald Reagan who once said, “Status quo is Latin for ‘the mess we are in.'” Well, as much as that might be true in some circumstances, it is not always true.  Much good and positive can be said about the status quo; which, by the way, is a Latin phrase for “the state in which” referring to an existing condition.   It’s opposite Latin term could be “mutare” meaning “to change,” from which we get mutant, mutation and commute. Status quo sounds more pleasant and comforting.  Mutare is scary. After all, who likes mutants (except in comic books)?

At this point I should offer a warning: if you were not familiar with the Latin terms and did not know mutare meant change, your brain has now changed because you have learned something different. You may not wish to read on.

My special interest has to do with leadership and the status quo. More specifically with the status quo in a local church.

So, how are we to understand the status quo in a local church?

First, it should be noted that the existing status quo began as a challenge to the previous status quo. Everything that is now in place was once viewed as a challenge or as revolutionary, and it was once considered a good idea because it intended to meet the problems and circumstances of the day.

The status quo can be a good thing. How?  Consider this, the status quo:

  • Offers order in lieu of chaos
  • Brings a level of needed stability
  • Provides valued traditions that can be transmitted from generation to generation
  • Defines and protects the current culture.

On the other hand, there can be problems with the status quo within the local church. For one, it can give people a false sense of security.  What might have been established and is now the current situation may hinder the important things God values in his church, things such as worshiping in Spirit and truth, or fellowshipping in a way that fosters Christ-likeness, or reaching those who are lost in their sins and without Christ.

Another problem is that the status quo can be turned into complacency. One only needs to read the prophets of the Old Testament or Christ’s rebuke to Laodicea in Revelation to know that God hates complacency when it comes to a relationship with him, doing righteous and just things for others, or doing what he commands.

The status quo might also become an obstacle to needed, genuine (and biblical) transformation. One cannot repent in the biblical way without changing one’s mind, heart and focus.  A local church cannot repent of its collective sins if it is content with the way things are.

Finally, it must be pointed out that the status quo can lead to the death of a church. In a culture such as ours in the United States, things are almost always in a state of flux and change – for good and for bad. For businesses, maintaining the status quo can be its death.  We have observed this with almost dizzying effects as we continue to see famous companies dying for lack of needed change.

In some sense this can also be true with churches. I am not necessarily advocating for business-like adjustments within the local church. Nevertheless, there is a sense in which trying to maintain the local church’s culture that is anchored at the cutting edge of the 19th Century may be the demise of that church. It’s rare to find Americans, Christian or otherwise, who really enjoy stepping into a church that looks, feels, says and does things the way they were in the Great Depression. Further, it’s rare to see a church grow spiritually or numerically that refuses to change old unhealthy or sinful habits.

Why would a church fight for the status quo? For one, there are always guardians of the status quo. Studies indicate that in most organizations there is between 6-10% of the people who never accept    change. About 8% of them become the self-appointed guardians of the old way. The reasons for this are many (see my previous blog).  Those who resist change or who set themselves up as vanguards against any change give familiar arguments many of us have heard (and probably used):

  • “We’ve always done it that way.”
  • “We’ve never done that before.”
  • “It won’t work.”
  • “It cannot be done that way.”
  • “You shouldn’t rock the boat.”
  • “If it ain’t broke-don’t fix it!”

These arguments are really objections used to reject transformation in favor of maintenance. I am reminded of a visit to a an elderly woman who was seriously ill. My wife and I stopped by to see her and pray with her.  Our pastor happened to be there at the time.  She was a stately and genteel Southern woman, rather well-to-do, who had contributed a sizable amount of money to purchase the new church’s property and build the new building. We were escorted into her bedroom by her black maid.

During our visit she was complaining about the presence of a new young couple. They were black, and worse, they were military folks.  Being “western” and therefore worse than “yankee,” we could not reason with her (perhaps it was the other way around?)  At one point my wife kindly reminded her of what the Bible says about loving fellow believers regardless of race or status.  Our pastor concurred and quoted a couple of passages from the New Testament.  Wheezing, she strenuously objected with her closing statement, “I know what the Bible says. But I don’t care what it says because it’s always been this way and it will always be this way, and I am not going to change!” With that, we excused ourselves.  Sadly, it was the last time we saw her alive.

For her and other folks who must keep the status quo, you might as well “keep the change!” That’s because in their minds there really is nothing wrong with the status quo. And if there is something wrong, there is still no good reason to upset the way things are.


“Progress is always preceded by change.

Change is always preceded by challenge.

Challenging the status quo is where leadership begins”

–  Andy Stanley


D. Thomas Owsley © 2011

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