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Changing the culture in a church can be a difficult endeavor. This is especially true if you are facing a church with a long tradition and heritage or if you are low-man (or woman) on the org chart. My hope is to encourage you in this post that such change is possible, but will require some serious seeking of the Lord in the process. Be encouraged: if you hope to improve the culture of your church, it means that you care about your church, and that is a good thing! So, here are seven steps to affect change in your church culture.

Step 1 – Pray!

The first step when you hope to affect change in your church culture is to seek the Lord! There is something beautiful that happens when we pause long enough to ask the Lord what His will is in a given situation. God invites us to seek Him concerning our circumstances specifically so that we can align our hearts with His. This is particularly important when we are thinking about changing church culture. Remember, he cares about the culture of His church more than you do! So, make sure to take time to align your heart with His in prayer. You may be surprised with the results after step 1. You may begin to see change in the culture immediately. You may not. You may see that your heart changes in the process. If you are praying for change in the culture of your church, make sure first to align your heart and your desires with His. You may also ask the Lord for patience in the process of change. You’re going to need it!

Step 2 – Listen.

The second step when you hope to affect change in your church culture is to take the time to listen to those that have been a part of the church for longer than you. Most of the time, there are stories, details, history of which you are not yet aware. If this is true, you owe it to the church and to yourself to do some research on the culture of the church before attempting to change it. Most new pastors should wait somewhere between nine months and one year before even thinking about changing major aspects of the church culture. Take this time to listen to those that have information that you do not.

Step 3 – Build.

If you are hoping to affect change in your church’s culture, you will need to build trust and relationships with leaders that are already in place. Leaders will not be effective in leading culture change within the church if they have not yet gained the trust of those they work with or for. So, since you are taking your time, use it to build loving relationship with the people in your church. If you are not able to build these kinds of relationships, you won’t want to be together where you are going anyway. Decide that the people you are traveling with are more important than the destination where you are heading.

Step 4 – Ask.

Most of the time, church cultures exist because of the ways leaders in the church have led. As a result, it is helpful to ask those leaders what they had in mind in certain decisions regarding the church culture. You might be surprised to learn that you have many of the same goals in mind, but have different ideas about how to reach those goals. At that point, you are all on the same team. You just have different ideas about the right game plays. If nothing else, this process can help all parties to understand that you are part of the same body of Christ, looking to fulfill the same Great Commission, and partnering together in how to do that best. And, if you differ on ways to do this, asking gives you the opportunity to work that through in meaningful conversation.

Step 5 – Share.

After you have shown the respect and courage to ask leaders about their thought process, you will likely find that these leaders will return the favor. You should be prepared at this time to be asked about how you would handle given situations and decisions were it placed in your hands. This is the right time and context for you to share your solicited thoughts on how you would choose similarly or differently than leadership has chosen. More often that not, if leadership is going to receive your thoughts will, it will be in a setting such as this. They’ve asked for it! Be respectful and clear, giving a well-prepared plan of action with appropriate reasoning. You may find that the leadership of the church is ready to move and was simply looking for the right plan of action that you have presented. When asked, don’t be afraid to share what you have in mind.

Step 6 – Understand.

Even after being asked for your thoughts on the direction of the church, understand that the answer may still be “no.” This is possible for any position in the church, as we mutually submit to one another out of love and respect for Christ. From the first time Worship Leader to the veteran Senior Pastor, there will be times that the answer is simply “no.” This may be a result of theology, philosophy, vision, finances, stewardship, relationships, limitations on time, or any number of other elements that cause leadership in churches to say no. But, even if this is the case, the process has been helpful. You have learned to align your heart with the Lord, listen to those who know the church better than you, build trust with leadership, ask for leadership’s vision and process, share your thoughts in an appropriate context, and understand if the answer is no. These things are progress in themselves and often, in themselves, have the effect of changing church culture. The answer might be yes next time, and you have moved the starting line.

Step 7 – Repeat.

The last step when you hope to affect change in your church culture is to repeat the process. Leaders in the church must understand that growing the church is an ongoing process. There are no quick fixes and this kind of journey is inherent in the shepherding process. A good shepherd does not just point the sheep in a direction and yell, “Go!” Similarly one cannot drive a truck through the flock and expect for the sheep to respond well. Instead, a good shepherd (like our Good Shepherd) walks in the Spirit, walks with the flock, seeks to understand, engenders trust, develops good communication, is humble to serve, and hangs in there even when things get tough. May our Good Shepherd do this for you especially as you head down the long path to affect change in your church culture!

“However many years anyone may live, let them enjoy them all.” – Ecclesiastes 11:8

I enjoy John Eldredge’s awareness of the move of God.

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I have followed John Eldredge for a number years, after meeting him as a student at Biola University. Each year, Eldredge encourages people to consider what their word for the year might be. This is not a New Year’s Resolution. It’s not what do you want your year to be. It’s an opportunity for one to ask God to speak into and over the year what He would like to see in your life. I can honestly say that I tried multiple years to do this and never had what I believed to be a genuine word from the Lord over my year.

However, 2018 is the year. Liz and I have been more intentional about “Listening Prayer” over the past couple of years. We never wanted to manufacture something. We never wanted to manipulate. But, after quite a bit of study on the topic, we have practiced “Listening Prayer” more intentionally in the past couple of year. I guess it shouldn’t have been a surprise then when the Lord brought the word “Enjoy” to mind several times at the end of 2017 and leading into 2018. 2018 is the year of Enjoy.

I’m to enjoy the work that is before me.

I’m to enjoy the presence of God in my life.

I’m to enjoy the relationships that God has given me.

I’m to enjoy the world that is all around me.

So, 2018 is the Year of Enjoy. I plan to be intentional about enjoying God this year and all that He has for me. After all, it was John Piper who said that the purpose of life is to “Glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” I plan to.

I remain thankful for John Eldredge’s life and ministry. I remember breaking down crying within seconds of his Restoration of the Heart Conference in June of 2016. He hadn’t even begun to speak yet. But, the power and presence of God in that place (New Life Church, Colorado Springs) was palpable. I remember hearing him say later how much prayer had gone into the event, days and months leading up to the start. It’s no wonder that God was moving from the start!

So, here is the start to my Enjoy Year (2018). I enjoy John Eldredge, his awareness of the move of God, his compassionate heart for people, and the way that he walks with joy.

Perhaps you enjoy John Eldredge too?

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It was never “just” a prayer.

I received this question from an attender and wanted to address the important question what it actually means to give your life to Jesus.

I think the heart of your concern rests in the following questions that you asked:

Why did the people who accepted Jesus as their Lord and savior go to hell? If all you have to do is say that Jesus is Lord and repent for your sin once, then why do we need to strive to be more like Jesus? It seems like you should but don’t have to. Why does the Bible tell us to always be aware, to not drift away? Why would it say it if once we say the sinner prayer, we are saved for good?

Let me respond as best I can here by email, understanding that conversation in person will usually be more helpful and thorough. As you have heard me say before, I do not believe that people can lose their salvation.

Ephesians 1:13-14 says

“you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

If you believe in Christ and become a follower of Christ, you are given the Holy Spirit, who is a “deposit guaranteeing our inheritance.” In other words, the Holy Spirit in you is a sign to you that you have saved, you are being saved, and you will be saved.

In John 10:28, Jesus indicates that none that He has been given can be snatched from his hand.

Romans 8:33-39 says

33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This means that we don’t have to be fearful of losing our salvation or of someone taking it from us. If we are chosen by God and have chosen to follow Him, we do not need to live in fear of being taken away from His promise. In this way, I do not believe that anyone who accepts Christ as Savior is sent to hell.

What I would do is say that we need to broaden our understanding of what it means to be a Christian. You asked, “If all we have to do” is say a prayer once and repent, then why do we need to become more like Jesus. I believe the Bible teaches our growth and includes warnings about falling away because the Christian life was never just about one prayer. The prayer is an outpouring of the heart of the believer towards God, it is not a one time transactional contract. We have instead a covenant with God that lasts a lifetime. God didn’t intend for the Christian life to be a one time magic set of words that got us out of hell and into heaven. The Christian life is indeed about a relationship with God and working out our salvation with fear and trembling (says Paul in Philippians 2). This does not mean that we can earn our salvation or save ourselves, it is a gift of God (Romans 6:23). What it does mean is that it is much more than a one time prior. Giving our life to Jesus means just that; that we give our lives to Jesus. Not just our words. Not just our prayers. We become more than believers in Christ. We become followers of Christ that walk in relationship to and with him.

The Holy Spirit is given as a seal to be able to accomplish the work of God in our lives and apply to us the work of Christ on the cross. It is a relationship. Think of the relationships in your life. None of them are just a one time meeting or a one time set of words. They are on going. Gordon Fee says it this way

“For Paul, life in the Spirit begins at conversion; at the same time that experience is both dynamic and renewable.” – Gordon Fee

Fee is saying that while we are given the seal of the Holy Spirit at conversion, the relationship is one that grows, is renewed, and expands. That is what we look for in our relationship with God, and if we indeed have the Holy Spirit in us, we do not need to worry about salvation being taken from us. In the end, the prize that we get is God himself!!

Denominations have many different takes on these issues and I think it is helpful to learn from the denominations and the truth that they present. There is no one denomination that has the corner market on who the Holy Spirit is and what He does in our lives. And so, we learn and discern what the denominations have to say. Much of that is a lifelong process as well. We discern what the traditions say, compare them with the Scripture, discuss them with others, and ask the Spirit to guide us into all truth, as Jesus said he would. I agree with your assessment by the way, that Orthodox churches seem to have a lot of traditions and protestant churches seem to have none. It may be helpful for both sides (and there are many more) to center upon Jesus and submit their rules (or lack thereof) to His Spirit as we work out our salvation together.

I’ll conclude with a story about a man who once came up to the world famous violinist Itzhak Perlman and said, I would give my whole life to play the violin the way that you do. Perlman grinned and said, “I did give my whole life.” What showed that Perlman was a violinist: saying the words that he was a violinist or spending a lifetime playing? (See James’ talk about faith and deeds!) It’s a fantastic reminder to see that we have an opportunity as followers of Christ to give our whole lives (selves) to him, not just a one time prayer. And the good news is that our being save doesn’t rest on us, but on the Savior who will not lose one that the Father has given (John 6:39). You can’t earn your salvation, but you can give him your life. And that is a lot more than a prayer!