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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CHANGE THEORY & Toward a Holistic, Postmodernal Theory of Change by @BobWhitesel

Excerpted from The Journal of the American Society for Church Growth (JASCG), Fall 2008, editor Gary McIntosh, DMin, PhD., La Mirada, CA: Biola University.

Toward a Holistic and Postmodernal Theory of Change: The Four-forces Model of Change As Reflected in Church Growth Movement Literature

by Bob Whitesel, D. Min.

Introduction

Change that permits and even promotes efficacious evangelism would seem to be at the heart of the strategic intentions of the Church Growth Movement. However, in spite of its theoretical centrality, a review of Church Growth Movement literature reveals that change, while persistent in the literature, is far from central and/or holistically addressed. And though the complex interplay of multiple generative mechanisms that drive and channel change is acknowledged in Church Growth literature, due to a narrow focus in many Church Growth tomes, what organization theorist Mary Jo Hatch describes as a more holistic and efficacious “collage” approach to change (Hatch 1997:54) is missing.

The purpose of this present study is to form a background from Church Growth Movement literature against which might emerge a contemporary epistemology and model for theories of change and changing. And, since the cultural predilections of postmodernity heavily influence future strategizing, postmodern theoretical understandings will be sought.

As such, a holistic collage approach becomes requisite. Hatch’s analysis of postmodern organization theories leads her to believe they rely heavily upon a collage approach. She describes a collage as “an art form in which objects and pieces of objects (often including reproductions of other works of art…) are arranged together to form something new – an art object in its own right. When you use collage as a metaphor for organization theory you are recognized the value of holding multiple perspectives and using parts of theories to form a new work… they (postmodern leaders) use bits of old theories along with the knowledge and experience they have collected in their lifetimes to create a new theory worthy of use in particular circumstances” (ibid.).

41tso1esgl-_sy344_bo1204203200_            This author has elsewhere described his ethnographic study of 12 postmodernal ecclesial organizations, and how this leadership collage is evident in many, if not most, of their scenarios (Whitesel 2006:124-134). Therefore, for the present discussion it will be assumed that healthy and effective emerging postmodernal congregations are utilizing holistic and multifaceted approaches to managing change.

But this elicits the question, is this collage approach, born out of innovative reactions to indigenous cultures, reflected in church Growth literature? And if so, to what degree? If it is, then in Church Growth Movement literature there lies helpful and even strategic understandings that can help postmodernal theorists and/or ecclesial leaders manage change. If it is not found, then additional research and publication is required on this important topic. Such questions, that can elicit grounded theory research, are what this article seeks to uncover and evaluate

Four Forces Approach To Change

Theories of Change and Theories of Changing

We begin with a brief review of pertinent aspects of organization theory of change and changing. Within organization theory there is an innovative and influential perspective that change arises and is controlled by one or more generative mechanisms or forces. These mechanisms control the development and evolution of change processes, and as such require varying mechanisms and strategies for their management.

A brief discussion of organization theory’s delineations between theories of change and theories of changing (Bennis 1996) will assist the reader in comprehending the nuances of this author’s analysis. Theories of change, are those theoretical and practical constructs that explain how organizations change and factors that bring about that change. Theories of changing deal with how change can be manipulated and managed to elicit ultimate organizational performance.

The author’s current research is in grounded theory development that can elicit theories of change in postmodernal ecclesial organizations. As such, the exploration of the mechanics and generative mechanisms of change will dominate this discussion. In addition, since the purpose of this study is to encourage my graduate students at Indiana Wesleyan University to develop theories of changing (i.e. how change can be managed), I will also discuss (though because of space constraints to a lesser degree) how Church Growth Movement literature employs prescriptive mechanisms to elicit the management of changing.

A Collage of Four Forces

Organization change theorists Van de Ven and Poole have posited an influential model for change that considers the interplay of four types of change forces, with resultant yet varying prescriptive mechanisms for controlling and managing each (Van de Ven and Poole 1995). These four types or “forces” involve different generative mechanisms or motors, proceed through different process models and are managed by varying prescriptive strategies.

Though some change may involve just one of these typologies, many more change processes will involve two or more of these underlying forces (Van de Ven and Poole 1995:8). Therefore, the key for developing theories of ecclesial changing among future researchers and students, will be to understand and identify the interplay of these change forces, with a resultant indigenous collage from a grounded theory of change.

To begin our quest, an understanding of the four forces involved in this interplay will be required.

The Life Cycle Model

Theories of Change. This model views change as progressing through a lock-step process “that is prescribed and regulated by an institutional, natural, or logical program prefigured at the beginning of the cycle” (Van de Ven and Poole 1995:7). In the ecclesial realm this might be a church that was founded to reach a certain generational, social and/or ethic culture. The manner in which this organization develops has been embedded into the organization’s DNA at conception and/or renewal. Change is thus an outgrowth of the organizational life-cycle and its inauguration. Change will usually not be introduced from the outside as much as it will emerge from a developing cycle, that has been apriori programmed into the organization’s inception. In this view, a church is not GCRscannedcover.jpgin the empiricist metaphor tabula rasa, but rather prescribed and regulated by apriori forces that elicit certain responses.

Read more by downloading the article here: article-whitesel-gcrn-toward-a-holistic-and-postmodernal-theory-of-change-in-cg-literature-gcrn

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GROUP EXIT & How a Negative Legitimizing Event Can Push People Out of Your Church … (and How a Negative Decision is Different)

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 10/24/15.

I’ve written about how research reveals you can prevent group exits in churches by altering two “triggers” during the process of introducing a new idea.  The first trigger you must alter is called a “negative Legitimizing event.”  Here a person in leadership (usually a pastor) legitimizes a new idea and the “change proponents” begin to run too fast with their new idea. This headlong speed will eventually lead to “status quo congregants” feeling left behind and polarized.  The result is polarization in the church between the change proponents (who you need for cultivating new ideas) and the status quo (who you need because they control the finances and have experience).

I have written a book describing this (Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change What You Can Do About It, Abingdon Press) as well as created a short introduction in my “Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change in Your Church (Wesleyan Publishing House) at this link.

But, a negative legitimizing event is very different from a “negative decision.”  And, often my students confuse the two.

So, I thought I’d share a little bit more clarity on what comprises a Negative Legitimizing Event. This is because at first reading, students can miss-identify the “negative legitimizing event” as simply a “negative decision.”  It is really more than that with many of you correctly identifying a “negative legitimizing event.”

But, for further clarity let me explain how I once addressed the difference between a “negative legitimizing event” and a “negative event” with a student.   You see, sometimes students don’t find the “negative legitimizing event,” but instead describe a “negative decision” a leader has undertaken.

Here is an example of what a student once said:

”My Negative Legitimizing Event: The senior pastor at the time felt that the church financially could not sustain a full time assistant pastor. So, in order to pay bills and for the church to be financially stable, the senior pastor and the local board of administration, decided to eliminate the position of the assistant, which was for all purposes, the position of a youth pastor, one specializing in the ministry towards teens from ages 12 to 18.”  This person is a good student, but was thinking I was asking for a “negative event” and thus described a “negative decision event.”

Here is my response:

A “Negative Legitimizing Event” is different.  It is a decision by someone in power (Pastor Jim in the textbook, Whitesel, 2007, p. 158, para. 1) who legitimizes a change, without first building broad support for it.  A “Negative Legitimizing Event” probably happened in this student’s story, but he did not make it clear when and by who.

Thus, if you have questions (or if you are a student, before you post your answer to this week’s questions) reread pp. 157-158 (Whitesel, 2007), plus look at the Questions for Group Study on pp. 157 (especially “Trigger 2”). This should help you identify who/when/where did someone in power legitimize a change without first building broad support. And, thus the leader’s “legitimizing” of a change, would result in a “negative” outcome and lead the church down ROUTE A to group exit.

FIGURE Staying Power Process Model p. 177

For more info see Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change to Your Church, by Bob Whitesel 2010.  The figure is from Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change What You Can Do About It, Abingdon Press, 2003, p. 177).

GROUP EXIT & An Exercise to Help You Notice When People Are Preparing to Leave a Church

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 10/23/15.

Research indicates there are six stages and five triggers that occur before groups exit a church in disgust.  But research also demonstrates that be altering just two triggers, you can prevent group exit.  I have written an entire book on this (Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change What You Can Do About It, Abingdon Press) as well as excerpted a short introduction from on it from my book “Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change in Your Church (Wesleyan Publishing House) at this link.  If you have not already done so, read the link before undertaking the exercise.

For this leadership exercise, investigate how to correctly spot (and not replicate) “Negative Legitimizing Events.” This exercise is called “Locate the Negative Legitimizing Event.” It is similar to pin the tail on the donkey.

We begin with a scenario with three actors.

1  Read the story and tell us which one created a Negative Legitimizing Event.

2 Then, create your own story.

2.1  Make it about a ministry-related situation and include three characters.

2.2  Then give us three options for the person who committed the management faux paux: i.e. they created a “Negative Legitimizing Event.”

I’ll start.

Pastor H had been a proponent of Sunday evening small groups, and he had spoken on this at many denominational seminars.  Pastor H thinks Sunday evening small groups might work for this new church, and he consults a nearby pastor (Pastor D) who tells Pastor H, “you must be firm with them.  They’ve drove off other pastors and they will if you aren’t forceful with them.”  Pastor H decided that Sunday evening small groups had been successful in his previous church. Thus, he decided to announce to the congregation that everyone should go to Sunday evening small groups, even if they were already involved in committees, Sunday Schools, etc..  He announced this from the pulpit. Pastor J is a retired pastor who attends the church and was sitting in the audience.  Pastor J begins to call others congregants from his Sunday School class to complain.

Here are the options for a “Negative Legitimizing Event”

Option 1:  Pastor H tells the congregation the church is going to implement Sunday evening small groups.
Option 2:  Pastor D tells Pastor H he must be firm and forceful with the congregation.
Option 3:  Pastor J calls other congregants from his Sunday School class to complain.

Now, if you are not a student in one of my courses you can find the answer here.  But, if you are a student, please undertake this exercise before you click the link for the answer.  And, if you got the answer wrong share a bit more in class regarding what you learned.

FIGURE Staying Power Process Model p. 177

For more info see Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change to Your Church, by Bob Whitesel 2010.  The figure is from Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change What You Can Do About It, Abingdon Press, 2003, p. 177).