Sometimes it seems like every pastor I meet lives in one of those two camps.
On the transformation side are churches with names like Catalyst Christian Community of Long Beach, CA, Thrive Church of Denver and Elevation Church in Charlotte NC. They’re led by pastors who are constantly driving for their church to be an agent of change. Some have even changed the title of “pastor” to “lead catalyst” to reflect that. These churches thrive on finding new, innovative ways to present the Gospel.
On the other side are churches and pastors that are digging in. They’re fighting what often feels like a losing battle against waves of negative societal change. They like to describe their church as bible-believing, fundamentalist, and/or “First (insert your denominational name here) Church”. One church sign I saw recently told everyone who drove by that they were Old-Fashioned, Hymn-Singing and Bible Believing. So who’s right? The church as change agent? Or the church as a stable foundation?
Both. And neither.
Both are right, because the church needs to be a transformative community. And the church needs to stand for eternal truths. Neither are right if they’re picking one side to the exclusion of the other, because we’re not called to be one or the other, but both/and.
Any church that sacrifices eternal truths for current trends is making a big mistake. And any church that refuses to change their methods to reach a new generation with eternal truths is just as wrong. One is too trendy to last. The other is too stuck-in-a-rut to be relevant. Most churches emphasize one or the other. A healthy church does both.
The Dichotomy of Both/And
People go to church for two reasons.
Reason 1: To radically change their life.
Reason 2: To connect with something/someone who never changes.
Transformation and stability. Two contrasting goals that people expect to get from the same place. And it’s not just that some people want transformation and some want stability. Most people want both. At the same time. And, whether they want it or not, everyone truly needs both. At the same time. No wonder pastoring is so hard.
A healthy church is called to be a community of transformation and stability. At the same time,
People need the church to be a community where they can experience the transforming power of the Gospel. There is nothing else that will change us from sinners to saints, or continually push us to become greater reflections of the image of Christ. Learning to take up our cross daily is a life-denying process. That kind of inside-out transformation can’t happen in a business-as-usual church.
But we also need a stable foundation, a solid rock on which to stand. Many people who seek out a church, do so because they need a place to reconnect with the God who is “the same yesterday today and forever“.
Living In the Tension
It’s tempting to say that the answer to this dilemma is balance. But it’s not.
Trying to balance such opposite extremes will either lead to spiritual schizophrenia (no one knows what’s going on) or resignation (one side wins, the other loses).
The longer I pastor, the more convinced I am that I’ll never find a healthy balance between these two opposing truths. I have to get used to living in the tension between them.
The more we change our style and methods, the more important it is to re-establish our total dependence on the unchanging truths of God’s Word. Most pastors tend to emphasize one or the other, depending on their circumstance. And sometimes that circumstance changes daily. Or it depends on who we’re talking with.
For instance, when I’m talking with church leaders who haven’t updated anything in decades, I come across as the crazy, California renegade, pushing for radical innovation and change. But when I’m in a roomful of trendy, cooler-than-cool hipsters who are more likely to take their inspiration from the latest movie than the scriptures, I’m the old-school, bible-toting, Small Church preacher.
Let’s Work Together
The truth is, there are great churches on both sides of this. Many churches that might appear overly trendy to some people, are just using new methods to reach unreached people with the changeless Gospel.
On the other side, there are some great traditional churches that provide a haven of comfort for hurting people, while serving their community in truly transformational ways.
A method that works in one situation may not work for another church in a different environment. But the Gospel is true and transformational in every situation.
Karl Vaters, author of Grasshopper Myth
Pastor, Cornerstone Christian Fellowship
So what do you think? Can we agree that methods may change, but the message never does?