Bible College students want to change the world. Or at least their church. And they want to do so immediately. At least, that’s how many of my students roll.
I completely understand the compulsion to change things overnight. I’ve been there. You read the Bible, you read books on theology and ministry and the church, and you get a clear picture of what the Church is doing wrong. You see how things should be, and you’re absolutely blown away that no one else is seeing it.
All you need is a little bit of power in your church and you could change a lot. But even if you don’t have access to power, a loud voice will probably do the trick. You’ll be the prophet of change in your church. Someone has to do it. Things have been going wrong for far too long. The time is now.
Typically, our model for changing the church quickly is Martin Luther. The man was an absolute beast. He read the Bible carefully, recognized that many aspects of the church were grossly unbiblical, then acted. The guy drew up a list of reforms to be made, strolled up to the church door, and nailed it home. Church history pivoted on the blows of Luther’s hammer. Nothing would ever be the same.
Or maybe we don’t have that quite right. Did you know that Luther’s 95 Theses weren’t a declaration that the church needed to change or else? He was actually calling for debate. He saw issues in the church, and called for an open dialogue about how these things might best be addressed. And the fact that he nailed his list to the church door isn’t as bold as it sounds either. The church door essentially functioned like a bulletin board. So really, Luther was posting his request for theological discussion alongside Awana fliers and Christian babysitting ads.
And then keep in mind that things didn’t change overnight. The reformation was long and drawn out. Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg door in 1517, was excommunicated in 1520, and didn’t really start organizing his new church until around 1526. That’s a nine year span right there, followed by a lifetime of ironing things out. Reformations don’t happen overnight.
Also keep in mind that in an important sense, Luther’s reformation failed. He wanted to reform the Roman Catholic Church, but he ended up getting excommunicated and having to start a new church. (Please hear me: I’m not saying the reformation was bad, I’m just saying it wasn’t a true reformation since the church wasn’t reformed at that time. He had to start a new church.)
So let’s recap: our model for overnight reform wasn’t as brash as we would have liked him to be, he didn’t accomplish anything overnight, he didn’t succeed in reforming the church in the way he had hoped, and he had to work extremely hard for every change.
Still want to change your church?
I hope so. The church needs to be constantly reforming. We need reformers. But if you want to change your church overnight through brutal words and drastic measures, I hope you’ll reconsider. Don’t think for a minute that you’re better than your church. You are a part of it. If your church is not healthy, you’re not the only one above all of the dysfunction. You have a role to play in seeing your church become everything that God intends it to be, but you don’t get to do so with a sense of superiority.
Ultimately, we don’t get to decide how quickly a church should change. We work toward the health of the church, but remember that patience is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). It’s going to take time, and that’s okay. Depending on the reforms your church needs to experience, you’re probably going to have a long, difficult road ahead of you. But should we really expect it to be easy? I don’t think so. The most enduring transformations seldom come quickly and easily.
God isn’t an overbearing boss. He isn’t waiting up in heaven for you to produce results. Reforming the church is his work, and he graciously calls you to join him in that task, all the while exhibiting all of the fruits of the Spirit—including patience.