Changing church

Ummh … what’s that? How to change a church, about a church in change, a church that changes churchgoers, or all three? I dunno yet, but at the end of this article both of us will 😉

Imagine a little church of 10-20 people, with a culture of intensive mutual education: cheering each other up, praying for each other, hinting each other to ones faults and helping each other to fight them, etc.. Imagine this group stays together for three years (for some yet unimagineable reason … who wants to be part of a group that hints to ones faults). The result would be awsome spiritual maturity … of a whole group, where you now rarely find such individuals. Too romantic? I don’t think so. It’s church as it’s meant to be.

Task distribution: Yours, reader.

When it comes to change & church, first thing to note is that every Christian should be a cause of change for his sisters and brothers, even though every one has a particular gift that determines his particular service to a high degree. Just look at these:

(11) So then, encourage one another and build each other up, as you are doing. […] (14) We urge you, brothers, to instruct those who are idle, cheer up those who are discouraged, and help those who are weak. Be patient with everyone. [The Bible, I Thess 5:11.14, ISV]

(12) See to it, my brothers, that no evil, unbelieving heart is found in any of you, as shown by your turning away from the living God. (13) Instead, continue to encourage one another every day, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. [The Bible, Heb 3:12-13, ISV]

(1) Now we who are strong ought to be patient with the weaknesses of those who are not strong and must stop pleasing ourselves. (2) Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building him up. [The Bible, Rom 15:1-2, ISV]

(14) I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are filled with goodness and full of all the knowledge you need to be able to instruct each other. [The Bible, Rom 15:14, ISV]

(1) Never speak harshly to an older man, but appeal to him as if he were your father. Treat younger men like brothers, (2) older women like mothers, and younger women like sisters, with absolutely purity. [The Bible, 1 Tim 5:1-2, ISV]

(16) Let the word of Christ dwell in you with all richness and wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, and singing to God with thankfulness in your hearts. [The Bible, Col 3:16, ISV]

On being educated: “Hey, should’t change be rather the Holy Spirit’s magic?”

No, character changes are not the Holy Spirit’s magic. Character changes are effected by the service of people with their respective charismata [The Bible, Eph 4:11-13, ISV]. So character change is a process of education. There’s even an explicit biblical statement that change is education, not magic: [The Bible, Tit 2:11-12, ISV]!! Just the origin of the educational tools (the charismata) is supernatural. And because character change (“sanctification”) is the one and only aim behind all the spiritual gifts: a church that doesn’t change people isn’t church … it’s the church’s task to change people.

Now you might say, if it’s an educational change only, how can it work better than “worldly education” by social workers etc.? If it’s an educational change, I cannot just say “because of the Holy Spirit”, as I would again attribute the change to “Holy Spirit magics”. In the “educational change” view, the Holy Spirit changes people mediately: he gives charismata to people which they may employ to change each other, and he reminds people of what Jesus said (perhaps comparable to a “moral consicience”). These ways the Spirit teaches people a new way of thinking; the Spirit does not implant a new way of thinking into people!!

The reason why the Spirit’s education is capable of deeply changing people’s character, whily normal social education is not, seems to me this: it’s because the educated ones accepted God as their authority beforehand. The opposite is also true: for those who don’t accept God as their authority, the Spirit’s education does not work, even if they call themselves Christians. They might accept other human or just their own authority, and both are defeated by the old way of thinking (“flesh”), which is correct when it supposes:  they cannot hinder nor punish you from doing this or that.

The central role of God’s authority can be seen from the fact, that the NT does not suppose “simple human-to-human education”: instead, humans just remind their fellow humans to obey God the way they basically want to, or remind their fellow humans that it’s necessary to obey the leaders if they want to obey God (e.g. in Apostle Pauls case). This act of basically accepting God’s authority is, in my view, what the Bible calls a “conversion” (literally, changing ones mind). Accepting God’s authority is very easy in the  moment we really understand grace: first, seeing what God payed to have us around him makes us want to submit to sanctification, out of gratitude [The Bible, Rom 12:1, ISV]. Second, seeing that God loves useless people and even wants to use them makes us grateful for the possibility to serve him in church (that’s “spiritual service”).

Beyond that basic acceptance of God’s authority, we don’t need to bring anything to be changed successfully in God’s education process. Let me call it by different names to make  clear what it is: an earnest desire to change; the desire to learn, as the disciple of Jesus, being the likeness of Jesus; stark devoutness (i.e. attributing highest authority to God not only in worship service but in personal life); loving Jesus more than oneself (i.e. wanting to become like Jesus more than wanting to continue ones everyday life, see [The Bibe, Lk 14:26, ISV]); bearing ones cross. Please don’t catch on the religious words here, please don’t think about all the theological ballast in your head regarding “bearing the cross” and stuff … . You have the correct attitude if you prefer objeying Jesus to feeling yourself in the right (and, consequently, obeying not, but you won’t notice then).

Now you surely heard people saying that we “cannot live in a holy way out of our own strength”. If it’s all about accepting God’s authority and being educated, what the heck shall this mean? I think it must mean “we won’t arrive at good quality of character without submitting to God and his education process“. That is, we might instead try to become good people ourselves: with the motivation that we want it because we want it, instead of we want it because God wants it. Such an effort won’t succeed, as we have yet an evil thought program running in our brain (“flesh”) and it will trick our motivation easily by saying: “Ok you or people don’t want you to do this, but they cannot hinder you nor can they punish you … so do what you’re up to”.

It’s like you promise to yourself: I’ll give 100 bucks to Wikipedia if I don’t get up at 5 o’clock tomorrow morning. But that morning, on the ring of your clock, you throw away your promise and the whole concept of self punishment, and have managed to stay in bed without any punishment.

On educating: Change = (family + education) · love

After looking at the conditions to match for being changed, this article will close with a list of practical tips what to heed when contributing to changing people. As we saw, in the beginning, it’s everybody’s task … .

  • Change-resisting people are poison. When a group is made from 100% people <span style=”font-style: italic;”>with the desire to change, the result is a self-changing church on the road to Jesus-like character (see [The Bible, Eph 4:15-16, ISV] … the thought is that without accepting Jesus as the head, there is no growth). Practically this means: adding 20% change-resisting people to that group is the lethal dose (my estimation), in that all growth is paralyzed. Not immediately, but in the long run. The result is either a static orthodox immature church, or a static emotional immature church, or a static recreational immature church. Change-resisting people include also those who claim and even teach the desire to change, but manage to keep all unpleasant practical changes outa their own life, by applying tons of “spiritual” explanations and theologies.
  • Get the family virtues. Education works in functional families, because there’s proximity, trust, love, a space for sharing hurts and emotions, a commitment and mutual dependance that makes members stay together in difficult situations also. But, as a blogger friend said, “Cristianity has lost the sense of community and family long time ago and has become an institution, a recreational set off activities and one more religion among many…” [Baba on  wHo’S mY fAmiLy…?!!!]. If the local church is no family, it cannot educate. What adds to this difficulty is that, in highly civilized and highly Christianiued areas, people can afford to break free from the dependance on their fellow church members, by simply going to another church.
  • Appreciate proximity. Christians in highly civilized areay can afford to not tell their brothers and sisters what they need, because there’s no practical dependence left.  This results in mutual hypocrisy as we show ourselfs at our best to each other only, while hiding all weakness. This also unbalances serving out of grace: we serve now because we and others believe we can, not because we’re happy that God wants us to serve though we can’t (and though everybody has experienced that we can’t). To counter this, let’s think about the beauty of proximity: you know these verses in the NT that talk about the holy kiss? What an expression of loving proximity … of which nothing is left today. We have no such sign to say “Dear people all around here, I rejoice in being that near to you all; I rejoice that you all know me that well that you see when I’m depressed without asking, and can cheer me up, admonish or whatever as a matter of what we’re accustomed to do.” Because we never ever have the reason to say so, it simply wouldn’t be true … .
  • Love as authority. A good friend of mine made the experience that people change if you explain months long to them where and why they need to change, and that this
    only happens if you mean something to those people (“have authority”). And I ask, how do you acquire this authority if not by loving these people? For me, the words of those who love me mean the most to me, because only these words justify as “wanting the best for me”. Whereas in other cases “educators” simply might be bitter on me, hurted, unforgiving, or bugged. People who try to educate their fellow Christians and simply have no effect on anybody (e.g. when preaching) may have done it without love. (Perhaps you just preached, but before and after you never have time for the people you preached unto, nor are interested in any of them as a personality?)
  • Love as glue. It’s easy to extinguish a church by “educating” it: throw the sinners out and scare the rest away by authoritarian style. So how will an educating church stay together, though education cannot always be enjoyable? It needs cohesive forces at least as strong as the educational forces. And just as in a family, love is what causes cohesion. For example, nearly all NT verses on exhortation bear the idea of a cautioning, gentle reproach. It’s not brute! See what Paul says: “Remember that for three years, night and day, I never stopped warning each of you with tears.” [The Bible, Acts 20:31, ISV]. “Each of you” is, per the Greek, each in particular, maybe separately. “Warning” is literally “to put in somebody’s mind”: calling attention to something, mild cautioning or rebuke. And remember, Paul says, with tears. For to educate / instruct / encourage between Christians,
    the NT uses the same Greek word as for the helpful, supportive activity of the Holy Spirit (parakaleo). And another quote:

    (1) Never speak harshly to an older man, but appeal to him as if he were your father. Treat younger men like brothers, (2) older women like mothers, and younger women like sisters, with absolutely purity. [The Bible, 1 Tim 5:1-2, ISV]

  • Encouragers and prophets, use your gifts. Encouragement is a spiritual gift [The Bible, Rom 12:8, ISV]! Also, prophecying is “for […] upbuilding, encouragement, and comfort” [The Bible, 1 Cor 14:3, ISV], but these are words from God while the one who encourages has the gift to encourage with his own words. Encouragement is not just to motivate somebody and let him choose what to do himself, but to motivate somebody for something particular. For example see [The Bible, 1 Cor 1:10, ISV].
  • Church is not just meeting for songs and sermons. Church is caring for one another, loving one another as persons, i.e. as entities that exist even beyond the end  of Sunday Service.
  • Don’t correct … remind. Education between Christians is not so much to correct a factual fault, but to encourage each other to take seriously and to accept humbly what the Lord says, in the Bible and otherwise. That’s what Barnabas did to the church in Antioch [The Bible, Acts 11:23, ISV], and what Paul did in the first churches [The Bible, Acts 14:22, ISV]. As the reason for following the exhortations, one will not mention that “church must be functional” or a  good place to be, instead the reason is the mercies of God, which we must answer adequately by taking his will seriously [The Bible, Rom 12:1, ISV]. See also here:

    (10) You and God are witnesses of how pure, honest, and blameless our conduct was among you who believe. (11) You know very well that we treated each of  you the way a father treats his children. (12) We comforted and encouraged you, urging you to live in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into his kingdom and glory. [The Bible, 1 Thess 2:10-12, ISV]

  • Ingenious Jesus. It’s so difficult to educate: at the same time, you need to be patient and direct, soft and hard, gracious and true … Jesus was ingenious in being that way. By reading the Gospel stories, how he’s educating his disciples and also the Pharisees, and by collecting contemporary instances of people who behaved in the same quality, we can collect those ingenious patterns how to educate in truth and love.







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