Leading Change: On Being a “Change Agent” and a “Liberal”

change.jpgI’m going to post a series of articles on how to help your church change. As a lead in, we probably need to talk a little bit about the name calling that such efforts lead to.

Don’t for a minute imagine that it’s easy to lead a church into any kind of change. It’s not. And it will be harder for most than for me. I’m privileged by not depending on the Churches for my living and having been surrounded by supportive leaders for most of my adult life. It’s harder for ministers who have to support their families. And it’s much harder in congregations where the elders are the ones resisting necessary change.

Changes come most easily, and least painfully, from the eldership. If the elders are thoughtful and little wise in how they proceed, they can make it happen. If the preacher is in opposition, they can fire him. Of course, they can’t fire the members.

It’s harder for ministers to lead, because they risk so much more. Even if they have supportive elders, when they get out in front, they reduce the number of Churches willing to hire them. The sad truth is that this practical reality has cowed many a preacher into shading the truth. It’s understandable. It’s still wrong, but it’s understandable.

That’s not to say that preachers should always jump out and get themselves fired. Not at all. It is to say that the preacher has a duty to his congregation to work toward whatever change he thinks God wants. But it might take a very long time. There’s nothing wrong (and often a lot right) about being patient. It’s just wrong to be so patient you never get around to it.

Other members can lead change as well. You don’t have to have an office to be a leader. Many churches have been turned around from the pew. Adult Bible class teachers are particularly well positioned to make dramatic changes in their congregations — but so are many others.

We’re going to talk about how to do it from each position, starting with elders.

I was talking to some friends the other day. I told them — quite truthfully — that one of my biggest thrills was finally being named a “change agent.” I was “written up” by William Woodson in the April 1998 Spiritual Sword for my book The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace. Ahhh …. good times!

You see, I don’t depend on the Churches for my living. None of our elders cared about such things. And being called names meant I was beginning to matter to the Churches at large — which was my goal in the first place.

Besides, I work in the business world, and in the business world a change agent is very much a good thing. In fact, many people are hired and promoted specifically because of their skills as change agents.

Several years ago, many who began pushing for change in the Churches of Christ began referring to business management literature for ideas on how to make change happen. They sometimes used “change agent” to refer to one another, because this is the correct management term for such people. The more conservative members decided to turn the word into an insult.

It was an odd play. I mean, it’s like trying to insult a batter for his high batting average. “Those horrible high-average batters are just tearing up the baseball brotherhood!” It’s nonsensical. Unless, of course, you think all change is bad. I take it as a compliment, because it really is.

Well, the Churches of Christ are plateaued in growth, are dividing for the umpteenth time, Churches across the country are having to close their doors, and the most traditional of our members are finding more and more things to fight and divide over. Yes, change is needed. I’m proud to be called “change agent.”

Now, the same article called me a “liberal.” Hmm … I really don’t think of myself as a liberal. Of course, if by “conservative” you mean “opposed to change,” then I’m no conservative. But that doesn’t make me a liberal.

Back when the Gospel Advocate sponsored an Internet forum, I was part of a discussion on our use of the term. The moderator argued that those who disagreed with him were liberals. He then said that liberal theologians deny the inspiration of the scriptures. He concluded that those who disagree with him deny inspiration. Cute, isn’t it?

I explained that he was using the same word in two senses. In the first instance, “liberal” meant someone who disagreed with the moderator. I forget the topic, but maybe it was instrumental music. In the second instance, he was referring to a specific school of theology over a century old that was quite outside the Churches of Christ. Using the same term for two kinds of people doesn’t make them the same people.

Abraham Lincoln once argued to a jury, “If you call the tail of a dog a ‘leg,’ how many legs does the dog have?” The jury said, “Five.” (Back then, the jury could talk, I suppose.) Lincoln responded, “No, just four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg!”

My post was deleted the very next day by the moderator. Good times …

(Mat 5:11-12) “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

(2 Tim 3:12-13) In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

(2 Th 1:4) Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.

The Churches of Christ will never get well — will never stop dividing and failing to save the lost — until good men and women stand up for what’s right and change things.

When you’re called names and insulted and persecuted … celebrate! And remember that there are lots and lots of Christians and even entire congregations that agree with you.

And don’t get frustrated. It’s easy to give up and change congregations. If we change agents all do that, then there will be no change where it’s most needed. Don’t let your children get caught up in the legalism. Don’t waste your talents. But where you can do some good, count it as a God-given opportunity. It is.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
This entry was posted in Leading Change, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

0 Responses to Leading Change: On Being a “Change Agent” and a “Liberal”

  1. TCS says:

    I heard Bill Hybels say last year that to be called an agent of change was one of the greatest honors you could have given you. I just saw that yesterday in my journal. Sadly my mother throws those terms around as if they are equal to Satan.

Leave a Reply