Embracing the New

Written by Daron Brown
From his column Pressing On

I confess. I actually liked New Coke.

To my credit, I was only 10 years old in 1985—too young to know I should be set in my ways. The New Coke experiment lasted less than three months and was considered a colossal corporate failure. One professor called it an “intrusion on tradition.” A columnist jokingly claimed it was a “communist plot.” The masses made their statement: “Out with the new!” Seventy-seven days after New Coke was unveiled, the company reintroduced the original formula under the moniker, Coca-Cola Classic.

Resistance to change did not end in the mid-80s.

Church people can be notorious for their resistance to new things. Some is for good reason. First, we value tradition, and some things need not change, especially as they relate to message, sacred practices, matters of identity, core values, and mission.

Second, some church people are understandably change-resistant because they have been overwhelmed by a history of it. This is especially true in churches with high pastoral turnover. Each pastor seems to come with new ideas and strategies, and the flurry of adjustments can leave laypersons with heads spinning.

Some church people are understandably change-resistant because they have been overwhelmed by a history of it.

While some resistance to change may be merited, other opposition may be unhealthy. We can easily fall in love with religious trappings, clinging to peripheral matters like methods of worship, formats of services, etc., which may slip into a form of idolatry. The bottom line is that we should live with an attitude of openness to what God wants to do in our lives and our church.

Trying to avoid change is not a choice. For God’s people, new things are always on the horizon because our God does “new”: new mercies, new covenant, new songs, new life, new self, etc. The Creator-God did not create once, and then stop. Creation is ongoing. The Good News remains the same, but the modes of transmission have and will continue to change as the world around us changes. And God summons us to partner with Him in the new things He brings to life. We don’t gin up new gimmicks, but rather seek to know what the Spirit is up to, so we can partner with God in His ongoing creative effort.

Navigating the New
A local church needs at least three things to faithfully navigate the new:

A Discerning Spirit
Church leadership teams, led by the Spirit, constantly find themselves sifting through possibilities and opportunities. The church cannot blindly adopt every new option or take on new things for the sake of novelty. Instead, the Spirit helps us discern which new possibilities are best for our situation and if they are from God. Discernment is not just concerned with what, but also how. We must be discerning when it comes to things like the pace of change and how to communicate it. The thing the church most needs today may be a spirit of discernment.

A Missional Impulse
The church was birthed to carry out the mission of God. The church exists because God’s mission exists. The life of the church, then, is arranged around the mission of God. God has always orchestrated new ways of accomplishing His mission in the world. A significant part of the discernment process involves missional motivation for new possibilities.

A Courageous Will
Determining what needs change and carrying out that change are very different things. Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch tell us: “Every church should have a Research and Development department… Every authentic missional church will experiment like mad in order to find new and accessible ways of doing and being the people of God.”[1] This kind of experimentation calls for courage, and failure is part of the process. In fact, failure is expected and embraced as opportunity for growth and learning. Sometimes we fail. Trying and failing for Jesus is better than not trying at all.

Not everything new is from God. But God is making everything new (Rev. 21:5). When we automatically reject new ideas, we run the risk of rejecting new opportunities God has in store. As we open ourselves to change, we open ourselves to becoming better able to carry out God’s mission in our part of the world.

Christlikeness is God’s deepest desire for each of us. So, let us look to the Lord for wisdom to approach “the new” with a discerning spirit, a missional impulse, and a courageous will.

Daron Brown lives and pastors in Waverly, Tennessee.

[1] Frost, Michael and Alan Hirsh (2003) The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.