IMPROVISATION & Learn to “improv” with these three steps (and you will foster creativity).

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D. (excepted from Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations, Abingdon Press, 2006) 

Recycling is no longer confined to diet coke cans and Evian water bottles.  It’s become one of the dominant impulses in American culture today. . . . Whether you call it nostalgia, postmodernism or a simple vandalizing of the past, all this recycling essentially amounts to the same thing: a self-conscious repudiation of originality.

                   –Michiko Kakutani, journalist and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism1

Learn to “improv.”  Michiko Kakutani’s quote that commenced this chapter reminds us that an infatuation with ancient-future elements can lead unknowingly to recycled predictability and triteness.  Thus, improvisational originality can be a counterbalance.  Solomon’s Porch has been a good example (for more insights on this church in Minneapolis that is profiled in the book see: Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations). This church embraces improvisation each Sunday, and on the fifth Sunday, attendees improvise beyond their customary parameters.  Fifth Sunday experimentation may be a good way to introduce a congregation to this environment of Holy Spirit–infused creativity.  To ensure this is done prudently as well as effectively, consider the following three keys to improvisation.

            (1) Prepare Preparation may seem contradictory to improvisation, but actually it is the most important element.  Improvisation in worship must have a goal.  And it should start with a biblical one, to “love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37), doing so “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23).  Thus, improvisation begins with this objective, to connect people with God in essential and authentic ways.  Collaboration follows, requiring prayer, advice from mature disciples, and an understanding of God’s vision for the future of a congregation.  Then, the general parameters of the experience can be mapped out, including customary features.  At Solomon’s Porch, several recurring features provide a general framework: scripture and potential implications, worship that is fresh and germane, prayer, and communion.

            (2)  Present and guide.  The presentation must be conducted without tyranny.  Solomon’s Porch uses a consensus among mature leaders to guide its improvisational environment.  But as Pagitt noted, distinguishing between when someone has something to say from God, or something that originates from self, can be a challenge.  Improvisation, however, creates a powerful communal experience, which Viola Spolin describes as “the sharing (union), give and take, of each and every one’s excitement, experience and intuitive energy.”21

            (3) DebriefImprovisation is not only potent, but also as noted above, potentially abused.  Allow mature Christians to evaluate and discuss the outcome.  Remember, improvisation is not just winging it; but a premeditated foray into God’s Word and its implications for his children.  As Spolin explains, “Evaluation … is the time to establish an objective vocabulary,and direct communication made possible thought non-judgmental attitudes, group assistance in solving a problem, and clarification of the focus of an exercise.”22

Lesson 3

            Release your innovation gene.  As a human gene can reside veiled and obscure in an organism, innovation is a talent that can lie underdeveloped in a Christian community until released.  To release this innovation in a timely as well as diplomatic manner, the following three steps have been adapted from Hamel and Skarzynski’s work on ingenuity.23

            (1)  Innovation doesn’t follow a schedule.  Though Solomon’s Porch uses a Wednesday evening “musical collaboration” to craft fresh songs for the upcoming Sunday,  church administrator Thomas Karki was quick to point out, “But that’s just one venue.  Creativity happens throughout our community.  Songs may come out of a Bible discussion group, from a ministry event, from personal reflection, anywhere.  Songs come out of our community, from out of a place.”  Don’t think you can schedule a time or place for creativity to rise.  Rather, see the entire rhythm of the community to be one where creativity can arise from the least likely places.  Nokia launched its successful line of rainbow colored mobile phones, not after a daylong strategy meeting, but after an afternoon when company execs lunched near California’s Venice Beach and noticed sun-drenched skaters awash in colorful clothes.24

            (2)  Shatter the innovation monopoly. Innovation and creativity arise from fresh, imaginative, and diverse environs. Thus, Hamel and Skarzynski discovered that innovation wanes if controlled by a small leadership segment.  Many seeker-church models may unintentionally do this when they designate “creative teams” to design artistic environments for worship gatherings.  My experience has led me to agree, for I have noticed the longer creative teams exist, the less innovation results.  Thus, it is important to encourage creativity to come from all segments of a congregation.  Unlock and then welcom ideas from across the community.  Legendary British entrepreneur Richard Branson encourages employees of his Virgin Enterprises to E-mail him with ideas.  Thus, when a Virgin Airlines flight attendant had trouble planning her own wedding, she pitched the idea of a wedding planning boutique to Branson, which eventually resulted in a successful new enterprise.

            (3) Build a safe place for people to innovate.  Darrell Guder pointed out that much like the temple in the Old Testament, today’s Christian community often becomes an immovable, inflexible, and ostentatious environment.  Subsequently, the church inadvertently distances itself from the people it is trying to serve.  Instead,  Guder believes a better biblical metaphor for a church is that of the tabernacle, an adaptable, movable manifestation of God’s glory and presence.25  The flexibility and movability of a tabernacle best describes how the outward manifestation (that is, the methodology) of the good news may innovatively adapt, but the central essence, doctrine, and principles of the tabernacle’s purpose do not change with its adaptable locale.  

Thus, Christian communities must become safe, even welcoming places for innovation to be tendered and shared.  Solomon’s Porch does this by welcoming ideas from all community quarters, even from the floor during sermons.  While some churches may shy away from this due to the potential for dissenting thoughts arising from the floor, Solomon’s Porch sees this as an opportunity to engage in discussion with modern philosophies and apply God’s truth. And they do so in much the same way that the early church engaged Hellenistic philosophical ideas–at Solomon’s Porch.

Read more in the book: https://www.amazon.com/Inside-Organic-Church-Learning-Congregations/dp/0687331161

[1] Michiko Kakutani, “Art is Easier the Second Time Around,” New York Times, October 30, 1994, p. E-4.

[21] Viola Spolin, Improvisation for the Theater (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1999), p. 299.

[22] Viola Spolin, Improvisation for the Theater, p. 26.

[23] Gary Hamel and Peter Skarzynski, On Creativity, Innovation, and Renewal, Frances Hesselbeiin and Rob Johnson, eds. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002), pp. 13-14

[24] Hamel and Skarzynski, On Creativity, Innovation, and Renewal, p. 13.

[25] Darrell L. Guder, Be My Witnesses: The Church’s Mission, Message, and Messengers, pp. 182-190.

GROWING THE POST-PANDEMIC CHURCH & 7 ways churches can make digital natives feel welcome.

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 7/11/22.

Digital natives are people raised in a world in which digital communication is the main form of communication. Rather than radio, TV or the telephone, the main way digital natives expect to communicate is over the Internet.

Yet, 30 years of church research has shown me that churches will adopt online communication—but will not raise it to the level of their onsite communication. This causes a problem in seven areas. Here are those areas with suggested solutions.

1. Foremost, those who tune in to online church services usually feel second class.

The leaders speak, the vast majority of the time, to the onsite attendees. Only occasionally do we mention the online attendees. This lack of parity can create the feeling that the onsite is a preferred class of congregant.

2. We communicate a biblical theology that prioritizes face-to-face communication.

Oftentimes church leaders will say a variation of: “There’s nothing like being together face to face.” But if we look at a Bible-based theology, we see that most of the Old and New Testament were not communicated face to face, but by Spirit-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16-17) writings.

Whether in Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, or more than 700 languages today, most people learned about the miracles of Jesus, not by being face to face with the miracles He performed, but by reading an account of it. Little wonder that Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to empower us in our communication the message secondhand (John 14:2616:15).

The Holy Spirit is still alive and vibrant today, and can anoint our online communications as well. If you’re going to embrace a biblical theology, consider the theological principles of Spirit-anointed online communication.

3. Fully reaching out to guests and getting to know them is largely missing in online experiences.

Almost weekly I analyze online services for clients and colleagues. Repeatedly, I observe they are staffed with only a minimal crew. There might be one or sometimes two people.

Yet most churches tell me that they have a sizable online audience. One colleague has about 80 people in person. But his church reaches double that weekly that through their online service. Yet he only has two people designated to interact with the online congregation.

Now ask yourself, would you have just one or two greeters for an onsite service of 80? So why do we minimize our online workers when online watchers are often double our onsite size? Perhaps we do so because it’s “out of sight out of mind.” Maybe we do so because we have an unrecognized bias toward seeing people’s faces.

Or it can be argued we are unsure how many people are actually watching, because some of the data might be generated by a brief click. Regardless, we need to look at where the sheep are, and shepherd them. Appropriately, Jesus gave us the parable of the good shepherd (Matt. 18:10-14) who leaves the 99 to reach out to the one. And, Jesus tells us to see what the “Lord of the harvest” has sent … and pray for more laborers (Matt. 9:38).

4. This brings us to prayer.

Prayer opportunities are not usually as vibrant or prevalent during online worship services. Flavil Yeakley, a researcher at the University of Illinois, showed that people come to a church because of “needs” in their lives. These needs can be ranked as because of a) grief/bereavement, b) health problems, c) marital/family problems and d) financial problems.

When visitors come with these needs they are usually looking for someone who will sympathize and then pray for them. So, if you have hundreds of people watching your service online, how many do you have designated to pray for their needs they bring?

In my observation, to be a healthy church you need about 20 percent of your service attendance deployed in prayer ministry. If you have 100 online attendees, do you have 20 people reaching out to them online? And it’s not just about praying on Sunday morning, but it also means offering to them synchronous or asynchronous prayer chats during the week.

5. Online ministry reaches people who have physical challenges that make it uncomfortable for them to attend church.

This means many people cannot physically attend the church because of health or physical challenges. But they can tune in. And, we know that people with physical challenges can often feel second class.

Are we contributing to their feeling of being second class when they turn to our online services? Recently a series of articles drew attention to how people needing a wheelchair are often left in planes after everyone leaves. It makes them feel singled out and uncomfortable.

We too often make people feel singled out or uncomfortable when they visit our online churches. Are they feeling like they can worship with their eyes on the Lord and without people’s eyes on them?

6. Online ministry reaches people who have moved away.

Another type of physical challenge is for those who may have attended for many years, but because of family or vocation now live in another city. They often miss the smiling faces, the familiar leaders and the songs of a church.

Again, they can be made to further feel second class when leaders say, “I’m glad you’re here with us. Isn’t it better being together face to face?” For these people who still feel a strong historical and/or family connection to the church, this can make them feel like a hidden figure and even possibly an outcast.

To address this a Presbyterian church in Ohio, after hosting my seminar “Growing the Post-Pandemic Church,” decided to let congregants come by the camera after church and greet those online. The camera became a communication avenue between current and former attendees.

7. Online communication is often seen as a stopgap, post-pandemic measure . . . when in reality it’s the future.

Technology is pushing the quantity and quality of human communication. Online experiences now include holograms and immersive experiences. And in these new digital frontiers more of evangelism and discipleship will take place online.

In fact, some churches already are entirely online. As a professor, I couldn’t imagine such a scenario when I was told over 20 years ago that education would one day be largely online.

I was an onsite professor and enjoying the face-to-face community of my students. But here we are today with the majority of students getting their education online. It’s time for the church to see the future and begin to treat online ministry with equality.

Bob WhiteselBob Whitesel (D.Min., Ph.D.) is a sought after speaker, church health consultant and award-winning writer of 14 books on missional leadership, church change and church growth. He holds two earned doctorates (D.Min. and Ph.D.) from Fuller Theological Seminary. His website is http://www.Leadership.church.Learn More »

Read more at … https://www.biblicalleadership.com/blogs/7-ways-churches-can-make-digital-natives-feel-welcome/

BLACK CHURCHES & What My Black Students Told Me About Their Preference for the Baptist Movement 

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., Biblical Leadership Magazine, 1/17/22.

Numerous times over the years I’ve tried to help unaffiliated students who were pastors to become affiliated with The Wesleyan Church or another denomination. My rationale was not to grow any specific denomination, but because I believed accountability was good for unaffiliated pastors. Many of my students were pastoring independent churches with little accountability. I didn’t sense they needed accountability then, but I was worried they would need it sometime in the future and it would not be available.

All of my efforts were usually unsuccessful with African-American students. I often asked why. And their answers helped me understand why Baptist historians have pointed out that many black churches have affiliated with the Baptist movement. The Baptist movement was, in part, a reaction to the hierarchies found in many denominations. In hierarchal (Episcopal or Presbyterian forms of denominational government) a group of denominational leaders outside of the local church would often decide who would be ordained. 

But not so in much of the Baptist movement. They embraced an organic and indigenous route to leadership. This meant that a person first distinguished themselves inside of a congregation and then after being mentored with the local pastors might be ordained. This natural and field-based route to leadership had at least three advantages in my mind.

Firstly, you could see how a pastor led a flock from a longterm experience with that pastor. Their strengths were known, as well as their weaknesses. In many ways the congregation was the accountability factor for the pastor in training.

Secondly it created mentor/mentee relationships between senior leaders and upcoming leaders. This fostered an environment of apprenticeship and training for future leaders. Another benefit was that if a volunteer saw a senior pastor training younger leaders, the church volunteer leader might start training others under him or her. In my clients I have seen that the mentorship model runs very strong and deep in the African-American church.

And thirdly, it was less likely that powers outside the church would make decisions about the leadership suitability of people immersed in the local church culture. In many denominations, including my own, the highest leadership positions are held by people who are mostly of one ethnic culture. African-American students whom I encouraged to connect with our denomination often told me that they preferred to be independent rather than to be accountable to people who might not understand the culture celebrated in their local church.

In hindsight, this third aspect is exceedingly important for judicatory leaders to grasp. And I’ll admit that I missed the mark. These churches need to develop their own culturally relevant systems and ministries. To draw them into a bigger denomination that is largely of a different culture may, in my view, undermine their uniqueness and cultural relevance.

But what about the argument that “They need to join us and influence our leadership culture?” I believe there is an answer for this. It’s a lesson to all judicatory leaders. We need to intentionally balance our leadership diversity by promoting and hiring at the highest levels of our denomination more diverse leaders. Just having a department or a director will not change the perception that a denomination is led by those of a specific culture. And, often leaders are elected because they have a family or professional history in a denomination. We must move away from these habits and affirmatively welcome, hire and promote the “other.” If not, we may unintentionally harden those invisible denominational boundaries that further divide the Christian landscape.

Read more at … https://www.biblicalleadership.com/blogs/what-my-black-students-told-me-about-their-preference-for-the-baptist-movement/?

Read more articles by Bob Whitesel published by Biblical Leadership at … https://www.biblicalleadership.com/contributors/bobwhitesel/media/

VISION STATEMENTS & How I have seen them underused, overemphasized & mostly ineffective (and an alternative…)

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 4/13/18.

Yearly a handful of missional coach candidates shadow me on my consultations (more info here if you are interested in being considered for next year’s cohort).

Recently, the missional coach candidates and I were discussing the use, misuse and impact of mission and vision statements.  First, I will share my personal conclusions from having worked with hundreds of churches on their mission and vision statements.  Then (below my comments) you will find the discussion that inaugurated these conclusions.

I wrote:

If you have read my books, you probably know I am not a fan of Vision Statements (though I discuss them and the differences with Mission Statements in most of my books).Here is why.I agree with everything said (below, by the missional coach candidates I am training).

  • Vision Statements help visualize a preferred future,
  • create metrics for goal attainment,
  • etc.

But, I have seen them generate little use in these areas, despite pleas and pushing from the leaders.They often consume too much time, because I suspect, Christians like philosophizing and theologizing more than practicing something.

So, I have come to conclude that John Kotter has the answers.  He states that visions (created by a collation) are temporary and elastic things.  In other words, they are tied to a project.

  • Now, I’m not saying that vision statements aren’t needed.
  • They are, but they should be more flexible, temporal and more quickly created.

Yet, mission statements are different. They deal with unchangeable values (and for Christians, our theology).  They shouldn’t change.  But, the local church usually doesn’t need to craft them, because the denomination or network has usually done that for them.So, my recommendations to clients based upon my experiences over 25+ years.

  1. Have a Mission Statement that defines your theology, history and polity.
  2. Create multiple Vision Statements as time and projects dictate.

(Below is the conversation among my 2018 Missional Coaches candidates on this issue):

On Apr 13, 2018, at 11:10 AM, Tim W. wrote:

I did my graduate degree in business in the days when the competitive edge of Corporation, Inc. rested in these kinds of organizational tools. The church world then adopted the language and approach. My bias is still towards using these. I see them as critical pieces in organizational design BUT I also do not want to spend copious amounts of time/energy/money generating these statements. More to the point, if a congregation does have them, then they need to embed them deeply into the heart of the church. AND, if they are not authentic and missionally-driven statements, then it’s pointless anyway. :))

On Apr 13, 2018, at 9:01 AM, Mark C. wrote:

I would agree on many of your points. The fact that what the local church does is actually their vision is truer that what we or they want to believe.In most cases the Great Commission Vision has been neglected in place of a Great Coffee Dream.Here to surVMark 

On Wednesday, April 11, 2018 9:19 AM, Tim W wrote:


Hi all … I want to chime in on some of the mission/vision statement comments in this string from my experience as a denominational exec.I agree that churches can spend too much time on massaging vision and mission statement(if they even understand the difference/function of these two tools), but I also thinkmany churches spend too LITTLE time on them as well. There must be a balance. When properly formed and used, these statements provide a great deal of agenda harmony, synergy in the organizational system, clarity of priority in budgeting, effectiveness in staffing right, and a host of other things. Most importantly, it removes the fuzziness in the minds of the congregation as to congregational direction. In fact, when done well, the very process of drafting a statement together reveals gaps, relational deficiencies (both personal and organizational), and then creates energy, excitement, optimism, and makes strategic planning more robust. Of course, these statements in themselves can’t do anything for the church; it’s all in the way they are employed into the organizational system.The truth be told, though, most churches already operate from vision, but it’s usually informal, imprecise, and carried by a few power brokers in the church. A couple of great questions to ask when conducting a first consult with the congregation is this: if your church was at its very best, what would this look like? where would she spend her time and resources? These questions do not directly address the vision question because if you ask “what is your vision?” most people will either recite what they read on the bulletin cover or will look dumbfounded. When asked outcome oriented questions, however, a picture emerges and this picture is the imperfectly constructed vision.Ultimately, the vision statement is a tool to help organize for mission—no more and no less. It’s power is in its simplicity to direct and excite and it’s contribution to the real-world ministry of the church.Just my thoughts…Tim Read more of the ideas about mission and vision statements that I’ve come to embrace after seeing them in practice here.

GROWING THE POST-PANDEMIC CHURCH & My latest article published by @BiblicalLeader Magazine: Vision Statements & How to Adjust Them to Grow a Post-pandemic Church (plus pics of 2021 Missional Coaches Reunion in Orlando).


Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: To grow the post-pandemic church you must adjust your Vision Statement, especially if you have …

  • aging buildings,
  • plateaued/declining attendance,
  • overbuilt sanctuaries &
  • underfunded staffs. 

In my newly publishing article in Biblical Leadership Magazine, I explain the importance of post-pandemic adjustments to your Vision Statements in an article called: “Vision Statements: How they are underused, overemphasized and mostly ineffective.”

Check it out.  Then, check out pictures below from our 2021 Missional Coaches Reunion in Orlando as well as pictures from my seminars from the Midwest to the South.

And don’f forget –

  • If you or someone you know wants to join 44 other grads who have shadowed me in my consulting work,
  • Only 5 shadow me each year,
  • But Missional Coaches applications are now OPEN (scholarships to the first 3 who request this)>

MISSIONAL COACHES APPLICATION > https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/2022MissionalCoaches

Bob
BOB WHITESEL, DMIN, PHD
COACH, CONSULTANT, SPEAKER & AWARD-WINNING WRITER/SCHOLAR

REVITALIZATION & The Church Restart Model – What Is It and Is It For You?

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D. and Kent R. Hunter D.Min. & Ph.D.

The 3 Steps of the Restart Model

         Some denominations have a program in place designed to resurrect an aging congregation.  Sometimes called the “restart model” or the “regeneration process,” this procedure allows a church to dissolve the present entity and form a new congregation with help from nearby congregations of the same polity.  Components of this program usually include the following:

The restart model is a viable alternative to closure and has been employed extensively by the American Baptist Church.  While unable to preserve the traditions or history of the aging church, this approach does preserve a denominational presence in the community.

2 Pre-conditions

         However, the advice below must be considered when considering the restart or regeneration model.

1.  The church leadership must be ready to relinquish control of the new organization to a steering committee comprised of people outside the local congregation.  

2.  Church members must understand that their spiritual sustenance will come from a small group setting for at least six months during the transition phase.

This model is frequently successful in planting a new and oftentimes younger congregation in the same community as the aging church.  

2 Considerations 

However, older members of the former congregation usually do not make it through the transition due to two important reasons.

         First, aging members are accustomed to sharing intimacy and closeness through Sunday School classes which often are their smaller groups.  Home Bible studies, while more popular among Boomers, do not provide an attractive alternative to aging members who traditionally have enjoyed small group intimacy through the Sunday School format.

         Secondly, the restart model works best when the existing leadership is fragmented or non-existent.  The restart strategy then provides needed leadership to fill the void.  However, if an existing and long-lived leadership is already in place, and in most aging churches this is the case, the restart model often prunes a majority of these steadfast saints from the process.  Long-standing leaders will feel they are no longer wanted or needed, and resistance to forward progress often spreads informally among the aging congregation.

         Though the restart model is effective in establishing a younger church in the community context, it usually fails in preserving a Builder sub-congregation.

(This article was adapted from “A House Divided: Bridging the Generation Gaps in Your Church,” by Bob Whitesel and Kent R. Hunter, Abingdon Press, 2000).

7SYSTEMS.CHURCH & @BobWhitesel interviewed on the 7 Systems of Church Health by @ReclaimedLeader Podcast

https://app.stitcher.com/splayer/f/152893/58872098

Episode Info #71

Dr. Bob Whitesel brings incredible, research-based insight and a glimpse into each of the 7 systems necessary for healthy church growth. For show notes: http://www.reclaimedleader.com/episode71

THEOLOGY & A Biblical Theology of Change & Changing by Bob Whitesel PhD, excerpted from the book, “Preparing for Change Reaction.”

Excerpted from Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change in Your Church (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2008).

Below are links to what I believe is a holistic and biblically faithful theology of change. These theological suppositions emerged from my Ph.D. work at Fuller Theological Seminary, 2005-2007.


God is Unchanging In Four Areas

Change Reaction 4: If God doesn’t change, why should we?” Congregations are leery of church change … because they know God is unchanging in His character.

Download the chapter here: BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT – CHANGE REACTION Chpt. 4 Unchanging

One of the most widely accepted Biblical understandings is that God does not change.  There are many passages that attest to this (some are listed in the Questions for Group Study at the end of this chapter).  But, let us focus on the three most popular.  However, first we must tackle an unusual, yet increasingly important word: immutable.

Immutable – What Does It Mean?

There is an curious, yet common word that describes God’s unchangeable character: immutable.  The term, widely used in theological circles, comes from combining two ancient words.  The Latin word, mutabilis carries the meaning of “changeable.”  When the Latin prefix im- is added, it negates the word that follows and elicits the meaning “not-changeable” or immutable.  Millard Erickson offers a concise definition.

“Divine immutability … by this is meant that although everything else in the universe appears to undergo change, God does not.  He is the unchanging eternal one.”

We shall see shortly that this definition may be lacking in precision.  However, it is interesting to note that computer programmers use the terms mutable and immutable as well.  In computer programming an immutable object is an object that cannot be modified once it is created.  And, a mutable object is one that can be modified once it is fashioned.  

Subsequently, because of an increasing use by software programmers and a continued use in theological circles, immutable is an increasingly helpful term for describing things that do not change.

3 Biblical Passages Stating That God Does Not Change… 

Read more by downloading the chapter here: BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT – CHANGE REACTION Chpt. 4 Unchanging


When God Changes

Change Reaction 5: “What does the Bible says about change?”

Download the chapter here: BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT – CHANGE REACTION Chpt. 5 When God Changes

8-Types of Biblical Change

Theologians have pointed out that there are several types of change in the Bible.  I have codified them into a list of eight.  Let us describe each, and add a brief commentary.

  1. Change due to decline or deterioration.  This is the change we referred to in Chapter 3 as change in permanence or life.  In the previous chapter we saw that God does not change in His duration or eternalness.  However, humans do undergo this type of change, for as the writer of Psalm 102:3 says, his “days vanish like smoke.”
  2. Change in location, i.e. the movement from one place to another.  Millard Erickson comments, “Since God presumably is not … spatially located, the sense of change as movement from one place to another does not apply.”
  3. Changes in quality.  When the Old Testament Temple replaced the make-shift Tabernacle for Jewish worship, Exodus 25, 36 and 2 Chronicles 3 and 4 describe an enhancement in quality.  In a similar manner quality can lessen, for example when the Temple was rebuilt after its destruction by the Babylonians (see Haggai).  But, changes in quality do not apply to God, for the Scriptures depict God as being all-powerful (Genesis 18:14, Job 42:2, Matthew 19:26) and thus having more power would be impossible.
  4. Change due to growth or improvement.  The Bible states that God is all good (Exodus 34:6, 1 Chronicles 16:34) and thus improvement would be impossible.
  5. Change of knowledge means gaining knowledge that one that did possess before.  Again, because God is all knowing (1 Samuel 2:3, 1 Chronicles 28:9, John 16:30) additional or better knowledge is impossible.
  6. Change in beliefs “involves coming to hold different beliefs of attitudes.”  We saw in Chapter 3 that God is unchangeable in the essential nature of whom He is (Psalm 102:27, Malachi 3:6, James 1:17) and that God’s will is unchangeable (James 1:18).  Thus God does not come to hold different beliefs nor attitudes.
  7. Relational change “involves not change in the thing itself, but in the relationship to another object or person.”  This is an interesting thought.  As we shall see shortly, the Biblical record tells us God does relate to us in different ways, depending upon our reactions to Him.  Note, God is not changing, but the relationship between Him and us does change.  Thus, this type of change is found in the Bible.
  8. Change by taking different action than previously.  We see many times in the Bible where God takes a different action than He did previously.  For example, when humans ask forgiveness, turn from their sins and accept Jesus as their Savior, God takes different action (salvation, John 6:23, 10:9) than He had previously warned (damnation, Romans 3:10, 23; 6:23; Revelation 21:8).

Looking at the varying types of change found in the Bible, it becomes clear that in most of these areas God does not change.  Now, let’s look at each of these 8-types of change and see how they relate to God’s unchangeableness in permanence, nature, will and character. 

God and the 8-Types of Biblical Change

Because God is unchangeable in His permanence and lifeGod Does Not Experience Type-1 Change: Change Due to Deterioration,

God is unchangeable in His permanence and life, was a conclusion we discovered in our previous chapter.  We noted that this indicates that God does not change in His or eternalness.  He does not “wear out like a garment” (Psalm 102:26), and though our “days vanish like smoke … your (God’s) years will never end” (Psalm 102:3, 27). 

Therefore, Type-1 Change does not apply to God, for He does not decline nor deteriorate. 

Congregations know that some church change has been good…especially when it increases a church’s effectiveness at sharing the Good News.

Read more by downloading the chapter here: BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT – CHANGE REACTION Chpt. 5 When God Changes


Unchanging Character … Changing Methods: The Pattern of Parenting

Change Reaction 6: Let’s not talk about change, I need a break.” Leaders are tired of administrative unproductiveness and disorder … and want a break from volunteering.  After all, isn’t church more than administration?

Read more by downloading the chapter here: BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT – CHANGE REACTION Chpt. 6 Unchanging Character Changing Methods.

God’s Pattern of Parenting

The bible is rife with the pattern of parenting as reflected in God’s relationship to His offspring.  Let us look at a few examples of God’s parenting principles and see what lessons they can engender for church leaders who are tackling church change.

God as Mother?

Though often overlooked, at times the Scriptures describe God as having the best attributes of both father and mother.  And since the attributes of a mother are often the most overlooked, let’s begin our inquiry with several motherly attributes of God. 

God has an enduring motherly relationship.  Isaiah 49:15 “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”

God comforts, as a mother comforts a child.  Isaiah 66:13 “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.”

God yearns like a woman in childbirth, God yearns for the growth and maturity of His people.  Isaiah 42:14-15 says, “For a long time I have kept silent, I have been quiet and held myself back. But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant. I will lay waste the mountains and hills and dry up all their vegetation; I will turn rivers into islands and dry up the pools.”  Also, James 1:18 “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.”

To protect and nurture resistant offspring.  In Matthew 23:37 Jesus uses the imagery of a mother hen and her chicks, avowing, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”

God as Father

Here Scriptures abound.  The following are just a few examples.  Many more scriptures will be discussed in the following section, “God as Parent.”

God loves us as a father loves his children.  1 John 3:1
 says, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are!”

God is “Abba, Father.”  One of the most remarkable New Testament passages is Romans 8:15:  “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”  Another is Galatians 4:6 “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father’.”  See also how Jesus uses the expression “abba” when referring to His heavenly in Mark 14:36.  The term abba is a Aramaic expression of endearment and familiarity customarily used by a very young child.  As such, it is usually the first word from a child’s mouth.  While some translate this “daddy,” this may still be too formal.  A better term might be “dada,” an expression connoting dependence, endearment, commencement and closeness.  This intimate, reliant and cherished term gives new insight to how God longs for us to return to Him and recapture that early father-child connection and love.

God must discipline us at times, as a loving father.  Solomon warns in Proverbs 3:11-12: “My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.”  Also, Hebrews 12: 9-10 states, “Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!
Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.”

Alister McGrath has said, “to speak of God as father is to say that the role of the father in ancient Israel allows us insights into the nature of God.”  Thus, from the above we can catch a glimpse into God’s loving, preserving, just and devoted nature.

God as Father and Mother

Sometimes God appears in the role of both parents.  For example, in Psalm 27:10 we see, “Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me.” 

In Moses’ song of adoration (Deuteronomy 32) he characterizes God’s love toward His children as that of a paternal eagle, hovering over its young and protecting them.  The tasks outlined, hovering over the young, catching them and carrying them describes female eagle attributes, but at times can also describe male eagles.  Thus, both roles can be inferred.  The full passage reads, “In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye.  Like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions” Deuteronomy 32:10-11.

And in Deuteronomy 32:18 both maternal and paternal roles of God are described in the same sentence: “You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.” 

Sallie McFaque gives a helpful summation of God as father and mother stating “God as mother does not mean that God is mother (or father).  We imagine God as both mother and father, but we realize how inadequate these and any other metaphors are to express the creative love of God …. Nevertheless, we speak of this love in language that is familiar and dear to us, the language of mother and fathers who give us life, from whose bodies we come, and upon whose care we depend.”

And thus God’s parental love is so deep, it is almost unfathomable in magnitude, scale and reach.  There is little surprise that both motherhood and fatherhood expressions are needed to describe such love.  Ephesians 3:17-19 puts it this way, “. . . And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

Yet, fatherhood certainly occurs with more frequency in Biblical passages.  This may be due to the patriarchal culture of ancient times.  However, that in such highly patriarchal times the writers of the Scriptures would not flinch at describing God’s motherly attributes, indicates that God has no opposition to using the best attributes of fatherhood … and motherhood to describe His character.

And, fatherhood and motherhood can be defined in various ways depending upon the relationship.  For example, fatherhood can describe the establishing a household, the headship of that household, and of the provision, care and feeding of that household.  As we saw above, motherhood can describe birthing, nurturing, cherishing, etc.

However, to keep this present study from becoming too lengthy, let us look at how the fatherhood and motherhood of God relates to parenting.  And, in the process let us see if this doesn’t offer some strategic guidelines for dealing with change in churches.

God as Parent …

Read more by downloading the chapter here: BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT – CHANGE REACTION Chpt. 6 Unchanging Character Changing Methods.

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