Thought Question: On Moving to a Church Hoping to Change It

changes road sign 300x170 Change is in the air...From Wade Hodges,

One of the biggest mistakes I made as a young preacher was that I was driven by a desire to turn the churches I was serving into churches I could be proud of working with, because at the time they didn’t didn’t measure up to my ideals. I’m ashamed to say that at times I had the attitude that the churches I was working with weren’t worthy of having me as their preacher unless they changed into the kind of churches I thought they should be. The result was that I was miserable most of the time and so were they.

I think that’s wise. I do. It’s the same mistake as marrying someone planning to fix them after the vows have been said. Dumb. Leads to resentment, anger, and divorce.

Preachers, if we are going to lead change in our churches, it must be change that is Spirit-led, not just driven by our preferences to be the preacher at an “ideal” church. It’s not that I don’t think churches need to make a lot of changes. They do and in time they will.  But they need to be lead by preachers who love them as they are and not for who they could be someday after making a bunch of necessary changes.

After all, churches can be even more resistant to change than husbands and wives. I mean, my wife has far more leverage to get me to change than the my preacher!

Preachers and other ministers, do you agree with Wade?

Elders and other volunteer church leaders, have you ever hired a minister intent on fixing your church for you? How well did it go?

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About Jay F 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.
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25 Responses to Thought Question: On Moving to a Church Hoping to Change It

  1. Skip says:

    The goal for the preacher is not to create a church that the preacher can be proud of but to be a humble servant hoping that the Lord will be pleased with the church. If the preacher is a humble servant who loves the Lord first OVER church growth then that preacherr gives the church the best chance.

    Modern preachers want to change the church by their clever stories, creative programs, and catchy events. But God wants the church to love him. 'tis better to humbly pray, humbly serve, and humbly preach through the entire Bible and stand back and watch the Lord work.

  2. Todd says:

    Agree with Skip. Not my job to change them. It is my job to preach, teach and live the Word and let God change them.

    By the same token, I've never met any servant who was satisfied with everything staying the same as when he arrived, nor have I ever experienced a leadership hiring a new preacher hoping everything would stay the same.

  3. Price says:

    When has God the Father EVER left things the same ??..LOL.. Probably the ONLY thing that one can count on from Jehovah God is that He loves us. The rest…look out…change is on it's way…

    II Cor 3:18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,* are being TRANSFORMED into the same image FROM one degree of glory TO another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. ESV

  4. alanrouse says:

    A preacher who doesn't want to change his church isn't worth having. But as you said, the change has to be Spirit-led. We have hired ministers whose vision for that change matches what we (meaning the congregation as a whole, including current leadership) perceive God's vision to be after much prayer.

  5. Alabama John says:

    Preachers come to a new church as a paid employee. In my experience like any wise employee, they spend a lot of time observing and listening and adjust themselves to the thinking of that church leadership, elders or not, that hired him.
    Only a few admonishments by the elders or leaders will be needed until all are thinking and preaching the same.

  6. guy says:


    Just wanted to let you know that i still occasionally get switched between the regular display and the mobile display of certain pages of your website–i’m currently on my home desktop, but writing this comment looking at the mobile version of this page. (But this doesn’t happen for me on any other website.)


  7. Terry says:

    Change can be great when it is Christ-honoring and Bible-based. But it can destroy a church when the change is based on deconstructionism.

  8. aBasnar says:

    Well, we should be changed – that is renewed in our thinking, growing in love and holiness, as well as in knowledge and fruit. A teacher or leader in a church has a vital part in this process of transformation. he is not there to entertain the church, but to lead them on. A preacher who has no vision for the church … what does he preach?

    But on the other side: Is it about God's vision or about my (immature) ideals of a perfect church? I think the article made a good point.


  9. X-Ray says:

    Hey, hey Paula. I'm a former ICOC member too (been out 4.5 years) and arrived at the same conclusions you've shared. When I disagreed with the leadership of Cincinnati Church of Christ about investing time and resources into the current members of the singles ministry who desperately needed attention (and sadly still need it!) instead of going out and attempting to convert new singles, they would have none of it. I underwent a "breaking session". I knew that the inertia of the discipling system that had been set in place wasn't being overcome. (There are reasons for this, which I've come to learn later why this is so.) I couldn't stay in and be a "change agent". I thought I could though. (There are reasons for this as well.)

    It sounds like you're in a vulnerable place right now. The most important thing is to keep going and make the full break with the ICOC. This will unfortunately include many, if not all, relationships with people there that you've had for those 17+ years. It may sound extreme, but you have to remove yourself from the toxicity as much as possible. You can't heal from a snake bite if the snake still has its fangs in you! Read books like "Cults in our Midst" and "Toxic Faith". Read online material. Jay's "Born of Water" and "Do We Teach Another Gospel?" (see the "Jay's Books" link for them above) have helped me in my recovery immensely. (Basically, an ICOC is a legalistic mainline Church of Christ that says you're not saved unless you follow their "discipleship" pattern. Sound familiar?) You can also hop on to the (world famous) Delphi forum with a lot of ex-members who can help you out too:

    And I'll definitely be praying for you that the Holy Spirit leads you out and into the truth! 😀

  10. X-Ray says:

    And now… a normal comment. 🙂

    When I joined the Christian Church congregation that I'm a member of now, it was at the end stages of a reforming process. The congregation had gotten too legalistic and had endured a split a year earlier where those in leadership who wanted "their ways" left. The remaining elders and preacher (who was hired years before to help change the congregation in the first place!) continued to lead those who stayed behind and now we're at a point where grace is freely flowing. We may not be the biggest church on the block, but freedom in Christ is here. We work alongside the other Protestant churches in our neighborhood. (Still trying to build a bridge to the Catholics…) The mission and purpose of the church is centered around Jesus and not rules and individual preferences. It's a beautiful thing to see!

    It looks like Wade's comment underscores the importance of the unity in vision and leadership that the permanent local leadership of the congregation (elders) needs to have when hiring leadership from the outside (pulpit ministers and other ministers and staff). Fortunately we had enough of a leadership core to make the full turn into health and grace.

  11. aBasnar says:

    My familiy and I joind what was left over of the the ICOC in Vienna four years ago. It was a broken church with only 15 (out of 50 members) left, and the atmosphere was somewhat between despair and depression. The system did a lot of damage to them.

    Interestingly I saw them yearning for a more evangelical grace oriented gospel – which was the direction I came from, seeing that this is not sound doctrine either. I looked for a more scriptrure based faith and found that the ICOC in theory came a lot closer to it. In theory, reality looked quite different. So I actually pushed in the other direction, and this led to some interesting discussions. There were some who left for evangelical/charismatic churches anyway; but looking back I see the changes God has worked in the hearts of "the remnant". Many (not all, yet) recovered spiritually.

    One of the necessary changes was that we reunited with the traditional church of Christ in Vienna. They've fellowshipped with them on a biweekly basis for some years already, so two years ago we "unsplitted". This brought us in contact with older folks and a more balanced view on things.

    The church leadership which is now going to be confirmed (in June, the Lord willing), consosts of five brethren, two of the traditional background in Vienna, one who is a "fifth generation praecher" within the chuirches of Christ, one from ICOC background and one from evangelical background (that's me).

    The merge however did not mean that we broke relations or ties of friendship with the ICOC congregations in Europe; but maybe the situation over here is different in general. But even though I left the evangelical movement, I still maintained the contacts; we even meet biweekly in the building of that evangelical congregation where I was baptized.


  12. Skip says:

    As a former member and leader in the ICoC, I think we need to cut them some slack. Yes, they were bad in the past but many churches have undergone a radical change in the last 6 years. These churches are virtually autonomous now. The message is much more about grace. And in most quarters they mainly stress serving God and loving each other. For every ICoC church that is still stuck, I know of several that are changing for the good. Not there yet but making progress as per Alexander's comments above.

  13. "Elders and other volunteer church leaders, have you ever hired a minister intent on fixing your church for you?"

    I've seen that happen many times. The results were predictable and predicted.

  14. Alabama John says:

    I have never seen that work either.

    The preacher is to do and be what the Elders want him to do and be, That's why they have interviews and tryouts before the Elders or if no Elders, then the business meeting attendees pick out the one they think is the closest to what they want for THEIR church.
    Around here, the conservatives are becoming even more so but, there are more and more expressing wanting more grace and Jesus teaching and less Bible Laws being worshiped.
    What really is positive is folks that have disagreed for many years are now openly speaking their real thoughts and so many are surprised at how many have been thinking alike all those years while maintaining the same sober faced posture.
    FEAR has been the basic belief and that not of eternal judgment, but of being set aside as liberal and thus lost by other fellow members.
    Thank God the fear is subsiding in many and finally being replaced by LOVE!!!

  15. Paula says:

    Thanks X-Ray and Skip. I agree with cutting the ICOC some slack. I know not all ICOC congregations and members are guilty of the harshness and control issues. For example, I just relocated out of state and sought out fellowshipping with the ICOC in my new state and the leadership style is like night and day. The leaders here trust that the members are walking with God and do not feel the need to hold their hands, or know their whereabouts and day-to-day activities.

  16. X-Ray says:


    The congregation in Vienna is an unfortunately rare exception. If "many churches have undergone an radical change in the last 6 years", then why is it that none of them have come up with a consistent theology that says that there are most definitely other Christians outside of their organization, and not just pay it lip service? If they are "virtually autonomous", then why are they moving in lockstep to form a new governance over themselves? If "the message is more about grace", then why haven't any of the ICOC churches proved it by their deeds of repentance using clear, objective standards like the Henry Kriete Letter? If they are "changing for the good" then why did Paula and I leave years after they changed?

    The root cause of the ICOC's problems is that they started teaching a different Jesus (more human than divine, not sovereign in His death, pleased the Father through pure human effort) and a different gospel (of works and perfection) decades ago. And that Jesus is still on their throne. I was baptized into that Jesus in 1998 and came out of the baptistry still lost! I didn't become an authentic Christian until 6 months after I'd left. Therefore, I'll cut as much slack to the ICOC as I do with the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses.

  17. X-Ray says:


    It's very difficult to make an objective judgement about how much better (or worse) an ICOC leadership is if you've been part of the system for 17 years. If they can't objectively prove repentance using the Henry Kriete Letter as a base standard or can't objectively accept and prove that there are "true disciples" in every Protestant denomination and fellowship, Roman Catholicism, and the Eastern Orthodox church, then high-tail it out of there!

  18. Paula says:

    Thanks X-Ray. I can honestly say that I saw a radical change in my home church after the HK letter. I saw our leadership repent of the overt abuses but I don't think they will ever be able to repent of the covert abuses. Bottomline, they still want uniformity of thought. And if you don't have the same convictions as the leaders, there is this silent (covert) judgment that you are not right with God if you are not unified with them, especially if your differences become known amongst the members. My new leaders lovingly understood why I was paranoid when I came to them. They even told me, "Oh we've never been like the XX Church. Nor did we ever want to be." They've been autonomous for awhile and only now are beginning to partner up with other ICOC congregations. The ICOC is the perfect place for a people pleaser. I now consider myself a recovering people pleaser. LOL.

  19. X-Ray says:


    You're not kidding about "uniformity of thought". Some of the words and phrases you've been using (repeating The Great Commission from the book of Matthew in the 1984 NIV translation by heart, "radical", "bottom line") are hitting my "ICOC Buzzword Bingo Chart". Speaking and thinking with those terms is completely normal for a while after you've left. I've done it too. 🙂 As you continue to detoxify, your own vocabulary and thought patterns will reemerge.

    Oh wait, the ICOC congregation in your new state is moving from autonomy to working with the unified group again. Hum…

  20. Skip says:

    Your bitterness is clouding your judgment.regarding the ICoC. I know many churches who radically changed because of the Kriete letter and acknowledged the problems to the whole church. I know many churches where leaders apologized and stepped down from leadership. They don't have to prove to you how much they change, just prove to God that they are changing. If Jesus could love Peter after a total betrayal, if Jesus could love Paul after he murdered Christians, I think that we should cut the ICoC some slack and let them continue changing as they are doing.

  21. X-Ray says:


    I shouldn't be surprised that a former ICOC leader would play the default "bitter" card in order to discredit me, silence me, or force me to fall into compliance with the leadership's will. But it isn't going to work this time! ^_^ (Note to everyone else: when someone in the ICOC calls someone "bitter", it automatically discredits them in everyone else's eyes.)

    All I'm looking for is clear, undeniable, objective proofs. How can false teachers teaching a false gospel repent if they still continue to worship a false Jesus Christ that expects them to "be perfect" under their own power and strength? (And how can one just repent to God and not have any of its effects not be shown to other people?) That's the key when you strip away the layers upon suffocating layers discipling and traditions and mindsets inherited from toxic Church of Christ theology. I truly wish that they can know the grace I've known since accepting the authentic Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord six months after leaving the cult. (Romans 9)

    I agree with you that Jesus is giving them another chance to repent. But like the Jews who rejected Jesus as the Christ in 70 AD, they may not have another chance after this period of grace runs out and He comes and obliterates their man-made, self-focused, works-righteousness temple!

  22. Skip says:

    I live by grace and have for many years. I think we need to give grace to others. When Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive someone, Jesus basically said an infinite number of times. I believe if the Lord forgave us of our many sins, we should forgive those who have made huge mistakes in the past. Forgiveness isn't based upon how much they grovel or have to prove themselves. Forgiveness is based upon grace. If I am under grace, I can forgive anyone at anytime no matter who they are or what they have done to me. The Lord is the final judge. I am glad that is not my job.

  23. Royce says:

    Many of today's crop of young preachers have no vision of their own. They have Andy Stanley's vision, or Max Lucado's vision, or….fill in the blank. I hope my skepticism is wrong but it seems to me that many of our young men of the cloth read more books about the Bible than they do the Bible. As a result they seldom have an original thought about it.

    Thankfully in the history of the church on earth there is an individual here and there, a Wesley, a Luther, a Spurgeon, a Campbell, a Moody, and many thousands of less known men of vision who not only changed churches but history.

  24. Paula says:

    I'm slowly breaking away from the ICOC in my new state, not because of any abuses they have done, but because after arriving here, God has put a new purpose on my heart. Instead of focusing on making disciples, I just want to serve them in Jesus' name. So now Luke 4:18-19 has become primary and Matt. 28:18-20 is secondary. I'm part of a new church planting and the leaders have the same purpose at heart. If people want to study or fellowship with us, that's fine, but if not, they will still receive our love and friendship. Peace.

  25. X-Ray says:


    Why are you assuming that I'm not living in a state of continual forgiveness towards those involved in the eight years of spiritual abuse I endured? Many of them aren't in a right relationship with Jesus to begin with (given the false Jesus they preach)! Forgiveness let me off the hook, but the abusers still must be pursued and fought against because they keep abusing the innocent. One of the insidious teachings of McKeanism (the ICOC) is fully equating forgiveness and reconciliation, when they're two separate Biblical concepts.

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