Growth is never an easy process. When a child grows, it comes with “growing pain” that can literally be quite painful for children. It can create “growing pains” for the parents and guardians of the child who shell out good money for new clothes and then, before it seems as though the child has barely worn the clothes, they’ve outgrown them and are in need of more costly wardrobes.
It can be frustrating and we all know it. But growth is inevitable when we are talking about a living organism. And that is what churches are too…or at least what they are meant to be. And like all living organisms, when they cease to grow they begin to slowly die. Faced with that reality, growing pains don’t seem so bad after all. It is just a matter of learning to deal with the growth and change.
Churches should desire to grow. Not for themselves but so that they can participate in God’s mission, by living and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ as we are called to do. To do that, growth must take place if the living aspect is to remain as such. And that means changes must occur, not in the gospel but in the way the gospel is contextualized and the way the church functions in response to that contextualization. Though it’s tempting to resist the change because of the difficulty in the process, resistance only creates bigger troubles. Just imagine how many problems would occur if we tried to force a child to continue wearing shoes to small for the feet.
For churches throughout North America, including the Churches of Christ, the 21st century is a unique challenge. The social culture of the West is undergoing a paradigmatic shift unlike anything since the 16th century in Europe. For churches, especially those whose history predates the current shift that practically began towards the end of the 20th century, it presents a daunting challenge in trying be both faithful to Jesus Christ and yet live that faith in a palpable way to the contemporary culture.
With any change there is a learning curve and it is that learning curve that causes the growing pains. Unfortunately, there is little that can be done to avoid this. As changes are made and new things are tried, there are things discovered that need correction, improvement, etc… that would remain unnoticed without trying. I think this is probably true in many types of organizations whether it be a church, a sports team, a business company, or else.
One thing that church leaders (preachers, elders, ministry leaders, etc…) need as the church lives through growth and change is good constructive feedback from others…members, visitors (when applicable), and even the occasional outside consultant.
Since the most constructive feedback will come from the members of the church, let me share what I mean when I say constructive feedback. First, church leaders need to positive feedback… things which are working well, beneficial, encouraging, etc… It is easy to see just the negative but without positive feedback, it becomes difficult to take seriously whatever negative feedback is warranted. There is also a time, place, and need for hearing the negative. But this is where I really want to urge a word of caution.
What is needed is not more tiresome complaint (cf. Phil 2.14). Instead, what is needed is what I am terming as “negative constructive feedback.” Here is an example of what I mean. Suppose a church begins a faith-discussion group that is open to all members and non-members which will meet in the local library every Tuesday evening at 6:00 PM and the group will be reading through a well-selling book such as Simply Christian by N.T. Wright to stimulate conversation. Negative constructive feedback might be something like “the book was great for me but it seemed a bit difficult for some of the participants.” On the other hand, unnecessary complaint would be something like, “I think its ridiculous reading this book…just because he has a Ph.D, that means he’s smarter than me.” The former is very helpful for pursuing similar adventures in the future. The later is simply frustrating and unhelpful.
- What suggestions do you have for dealing with growth and change?
- What is the most challenging aspect of dealing with growth and change?
- What stories do you have that might help others deal with growth and change?