If Your Church is Drifting and Stuck, Should You Try to Change From Within?
By: Jonathan Herron
What do you do if you’re a frustrated support staff member of a visionless church? Do you try to change things from within?
I was at the Youth Workers Retreat that you spoke at last weekend, and I had a follow up question for you. First of all, thanks so much for your honest words and practical advice. I had a lot of great takeaways from the retreat and really appreciate your perspective!
My husband is the youth director at a 100+ year old church, and I am his most faithful volunteer leader (whether by choice or not :). We’re also on the worship team and a part of an effort to grow the young adult population in our church (we’re both in our mid-twenties).
As many very established churches are, ours is an “insider” church full of church politics and stagnancy.
The building itself is in a rich mission-field, directly across the street from a very high-poverty inner-city high school, but most of our members don’t live in the community and are primarily middle- to upper-middle class, white, grew-up-in-the-church Christians (not much diversity).
We felt a strong call to become members of the church and for my husband to take the role of youth director a couple years ago. Probably the largest factor in that decision (and our decision to stay at the church since then) is our intention to try to make a change within the church.
We often feel like all of our energy spent in relation to our church is pushing and pulling the congregation to think and act less self-centeredly and more missionally.
My husband has been pushed in his job as youth director to focus more on making other church members happy than to focus on outreach.
It’s frustrating to say the least, and we consider leaving the church just about every week, to be quite honest!
After hearing everything you had to say about deciding who you’re willing to lose (Christians or non-Christians) and how in most circumstances, the only people that get mad about things in the church are other Christians, our feelings of “what are we doing here!?” are especially strong.
In your opinion, do you see any value in having a personal mission of trying to open the eyes of the insider, self-centered culture of an old church like ours…or are we just wasting our time?
Thank you for your email — I completely understand what you’re saying because my wife and I have been in your exact shoes!
Let me cut to the chase: In church-world, you can either resurrect the dead or birth a new baby.
Birthing a new baby is easier (that’s why my family sacrificed everything to start Life Church Michigan from scratch).
Any meaningful change within a church HAS to be birthed out of the heart of the senior pastor.
If the senior pastor is not the one leading the change, the change will not happen. Period.
Your job is to support the leadership of the lead guy. Hebrews 13:17 says,
Be responsive to your pastoral leaders. Listen to their counsel. They are alert to the condition of your lives and work under the strict supervision of God. Contribute to the joy of their leadership, not its drudgery. Why would you want to make things harder for them?
My advice? If you cannot 110% support and champion the vision of the senior pastor, quit.
Flip burgers for six months until God brings you to a church where you can completely champion the vision, love the senior pastor and have his back, and use your gifts to further the Kingdom through the local church.
Your job is NOT to create change from within. God did not appoint you as senior pastor.
I’ll take it a step further: even if your senior pastor were a Disney Villain, it is not your job to challenge him and try to hijack the church.
David was given the opportunity to kill King Saul and stage a coup d’etat, yet he didn’t:
For I said, ‘I will never harm the king—he is the Lord’s anointed one.’
God will always honor leaders that can submit to authority and be in harmony with the church’s vision.
If you can’t do this at your current church, leave quickly and quietly. Don’t stick around for a paycheck (wrong heart motivation!). God does not bless sin, but He does bless humility and patience.
He will direct your steps and it is ok to work at the local video store or pizza delivery for a season. (I have literally done both in the past 10 years!).
At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself, “How big is my God?”
Hope this advice helps!
ABOUT JONATHAN HERRON: I am the founding pastor of Life Church, one of the fastest-growing churches in Michigan.
I am focused on strategic leadership and engaging teaching, all fueled by a gnawing passion for engaging people far from God.
My unique ministry approach has been featured online in Time Magazine, USA Today, and The Washington Times.
Married seventeen years to my high school sweetheart, I have three children plus a wiener dog with a nervous bladder.