As a child, I carefully kept my precious nickels and dimes in a ceramic pig. Sometimes after thinking about it for a few days, I went upstairs to my room and pulled out my piggy bank. I sat on my bed, turned the pig upside down, and pried the rubber plug loose. Shaking a nickel into the palm of my hand, I replaced the plug and ran to find my brother.
“Get me some grape-flavored bubblegum at the store,” I whispered in his ear.
He nodded and flew away on his bike, and in a few minutes he was back with the cherished bubblegum.
I guarded my piggybank with utmost care, and never spent money without considering the matter for a long time. When I did decide to spend the nickel or dime, the reward was sweet.
Lately I have been thinking about a piggy bank of a different sort. We all have a “bank” of a limited amount of energy to change. In this case I mean “change” as in “the ability to become different.”
Anything that is alive, changes. A church that is alive, changes. Stagnation is not a sign of stability, but a sign of death.
In general, I think most of us as individuals, and especially as church groups, have a maximum energy level that we can exert in the change process. This is not to downplay the power of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, God can bring change in our lives far beyond what we ever thought possible.
However, due to our human condition, many times we must decide where to put our limited energy. This is where people fail, because we all tend to gravitate toward change that feels manageable, not toward change that is redemptive.
We need to look at our change expenditure and ask ourselves: is the effort producing anything of lasting impact? Is it caring for real people with real needs? Is it just institutional busywork? Is it dealing with issues that are truly worth the church’s limited time and energy? Does it bring change that makes sense in light of God’s church as a whole?
Sometimes navigating change is tricky, because things can look small and unimportant when they really are very important. Other times, what looks big and impressive is unnecessary.
On a collective level, it’s comparatively easy to pull off a building project or fundraiser, and not so easy to set up housing or ESL classes for immigrants. It’s fun to design an impressive foyer for a Bible college, and very hard to change a shift in theology at the same college. A good debate about church rules is nothing difficult (although it can suck up an incredible amount of time), but beginning a ministry for foster kids or the homeless is a different story.
Of course we need things like new carpet in the church sanctuary and new songbooks and even policy upgrades. But what percentage of our church’s change energy goes into these things?
Looking at the changes a church community has made over the last years, along with the motivation for those changes, will tell you much about the spiritual temperature of the community.
If we are putting all our time into material comforts, we won’t have time for spiritual growth. And if we are part of a church group that is unable to execute meaningful change, we might as well forget about making meaningful progress.
Using our change energy well requires seeking God’s face with humility, asking Him how best to use the resources He has given us, so that we may grow into His likeness.
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.
2 Corinthians 3:18 (ESV)