Change And Pain

January 27, 2013
Listen to this devotional:
Listen while you read: "O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing"1 (Lyrics)

1 Corinthians 9:19-20,22 – For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. (NKJV)

In the summer of 2010, the Daily Devotional sponsored a tour of central Europe, featuring the Oberammergau Passion Play. Within city after city, we visited the "old city", with narrow cobblestone streets and buildings that dated back to the Middle Ages. Usually, these areas were restricted to pedestrian traffic, as they did not permit use by modern vehicles. Some cities had huge fortresses or castles built on hills, which used to provide a safe haven for the peasants in case of attack. In one city, the guide told of a battle outside the city, which was fought and lost against Napoleon. I asked why the people didn't retreat to the fortress instead. The answer was that the fortresses no longer protected against cannonballs and other new warfare tactics. Nowadays, these fortresses and castles serve only as museums.

My thoughts turned by way of analogy to the ways in which our North American churches, which were built much more recently than the Middle Ages, can so quickly become museums, as worship styles change, no longer attracting young people, and as our supporting constituency ages and our numbers decrease.

Thirty years ago, during the push to "Double in the Eighties", I distinctly remember Rev. Ed McKinlay warning a Presbyterian Men's conference, "All growth involves change, and all change involves pain." Because people have a natural tendency to avoid pain, we also normally tend to avoid change, unless we are forced to.

Some time ago, I had a conversation with a minister who told me about the conversation he had with the leaders of a church who were interested in calling him to their church, which had dropped in numbers to the point where it had to make serious choices to avoid closing. His first question was, "If you could make changes so that your children would want to return to church, would you be willing to make them?" After their positive answer, he continued, "If you could make even more changes, so that your grandchildren would want to come to church, would you be willing to make them?" After some consideration, their response was "Yes." Then came the clincher: "If your grandchildren couldn't come, but other people's grandchildren would come, would you still be willing to make the same changes?" That posed the same question, but with a view to outreach. The leaders' positive response resulted in changes being made that increased attendance, to the point that they were able to build a larger, modern facility nearby.

I have watched as a presbytery rented a closed church to a group that was able to fill it with a thriving, worshipping congregation. Why can't we do the same? The conundrum facing many congregations is, "Why should we change what we like to do in order to favour the young people, when we're the ones who are paying the bills?" Change is painful, but it's going to become increasingly painful for churches and their members to remain the same. Unfortunately, churches can't survive into the next generation if they don't include young people now. Besides, the church exists for the sake of those who are not yet in it, not just for those who are in it already. Times change, and so does what attracts people to churches. The message of the gospel does not change, and we have no license to change it, but we need to present it in a way that addresses the needs of those of this and the next generation. These days, young people are attracted to what is casual and up-to-date, not necessarily to what has 150 years of tradition behind it.

We need to ask ourselves, "Is my attitude towards change preventing the church from becoming what it needs to be, 'that I might by all means save some'?"

Prayer: Lord God, grant us Your grace to be open to what You want to do in Your church, for the sake of those who are not yet in Your kingdom. Amen.

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About the author:

Robin Ross <>
Mission, British Columbia, Canada

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1 Comment

  • PresbyCan Feedback says:

    This devotional has proven to be quite controversial, because some elderly people have been ignored, shunned, or sidelined in the quest for contemporary worship. I have seen worship wars, where the people who were belittled and rejected during the transition to contemporary worship actually hid the overhead projector! When we introduced contemporary worship, I realized that during the transition, the important things are to make sure that it happens slowly, that the reasoning for making the changes, outreach to the unchurched, is owned by the people involved, and that everyone feels valued and respected.


    Robin this so needed to be said. Thanks.

    I was reflecting on your devotional witch I found right on the mark!

    A big amen Robin and so much truth in your devotional for all denominations to hear.

    A good read and a good listen. I listened to you present it also.
    Keep writing.

    Great message Robin! I especially enjoyed the historical background.
    You also made an interesting point to consider as many churches are struggling to keep their lamp burning for future generations.

    Thank you for a powerful and thought provoking Devotional. Excellent advice from a Man of God who wishes to see our Churches grow and not close.

    Very powerful devotional. I truly hope and will continue to pray, every Minister and Session read, discuss and answer the questions you have written about today! The correct answers would breathe new life simply by obedience to God’s instruction and Jesus example while here on earth. God Bless you!

    Good morning Robin: One thing that sickens me is to see a vacated church!
    Our worship services have changed!
    I personally favour worship in quietness and reverence not the drums and hoopla!
    To each his own.
    Blessings in Christ.

    We need to not only hear this message, but we need to let it permeate our being as we ask Jesus to show us how to reach out to those outside the church in a way that is relevant and yet is true to the Gospel. We don’t have to have Organs, we can have keyboards, guitars, drums, etc. We can wear casual clothes, we don’t have to wear suits. What matters is the heart, what is on the inside not our outward appearance or the ways we worship but rather who we worship.

    Really appreciated your devotional today. I am a senior who is a member of the Presbyterian Church as I was baptized and brought into membership at age 19. I have throughout my years had many experiences worshiping with other denominations and have truly delighted in being with the Body of Christ. I have had many opportunities to worship in different Presbyterian Churches also and even though they may have a different style, they all worship the same Lord. May we all be united under the cross of Jesus and continue to be witnesses for Christ.
    Thank you for your ministry.

    Dear Robin,
    All churches seem to be facing crossroads as far as increasing the size and more importantly the faith of its’ members and congregation.
    We all need to look really deeply into our hearts and ask ourselves what is important – the building or the building of our faith and sharing it with others. Our prayer should be “Lord, help us to be your disciples and do what you would have us do in Christ.” Sharing the word should be my utmost prayer.
    The world is lost without Him and I want to be part of His team and serving others so that they can learn more about Him.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with others.

    Hi Robin. Excellent devotional. It touched a nerve this morning. I just returned home from visiting a different church in my city. It is in a movie theater. Six young folks were baptized today. That’s 15 this month. There were in excess of 300 sincere people there to worship our Lord.
    For over a decade now, every 4 to 6 weeks, I try to hear a different Spirit filled Pastor, Reverend, Priest, Messianic Rabbi, Preacher or layperson, outside of my church, deliver a message or personal testimony praising God. Today I was not disappointed. It so married with your devotional that I just wanted to encourage you. God so wants to make himself relevant for the many young people searching for him but for any number of reasons simply do not want to walk through established church building doors.
    Peace be with you.

    Hello Robin
    I have been reflecting on your meditation on the Daily, today.
    Here is a quote from one of my mentors – The Rev Dr Ronald R Lee.
    “…The practice of ministry may be defined, therefore, under four categories: (1) the minister as a guarantor of continuity, (2) the minister as a celebrator of change, (3) the minister as a negotiator of structure, and (4) the minister as a facilitator of meaning. Any concept of ministry must be linked to an empirical understanding of man[sic] as a developing person, and [Erik] Erikson’s schema serves the purpose well. Whatever model of ministry one employs, it must be flexible in dealing with the realities of change.” (Journal of Pastoral Care. Vol 26:1, 1971)
    In my opinion, this is still a relevant guide for church leaders.

    Hello Robin:
    I have been reading the daily devotional for a couple of years now. It always amazes me how God is able to time things out to fit the circumstances of so many different people. Let me explain.
    For the past week, I have struggled with whether or not to accept a “calling” to a church search team due to my current commitments which take up a significant amount of time. But your devotional spoke to me today. It said get out there and do this because I (God) need you. I also believe that to move forward, our aging, declining church needs to make some choices which may be painful.
    Thank you for your devotional and thank you for all the work you do in organizing this work. I would like to print all or part of your devotional in our annual report.
    Thanks again for the inspiration.

    What a timely message! This seems to be a frequent dilemma in our churches today.
    I have been through changes that took place within my former church. The changes did cause pain, especially with the older members who are the ones who are often tithers and give on a regular basis. It seems that those members who are resisting change are often ignored in order to meet the needs of those who need to be churched.
    What is a solution to this problem, other than to start the church over with new members?

    Good evening Robin:
    An excellent message, change is often hard, but often necessary and we, like most in the Lord’s service, have experienced this over the years. However we must always remember there must be depth and guidance when change takes place, we must keep the message of the Old Old Story the most important part of the service. A service without the breaking of the word is often a service without meaning to those attending.
    A great, great presentation, one we all needed to hear.
    Thank you.

    Dear Mr. Ross: Thank you for writing ‘Change and Pain.’ Your devotional was greatly appreciated, so much so, that it was going through the internet early this morning, before church, to many of our church members who don’t get PresbyCan (yet). I wear many hats in the church as many people do today and it just seems that of the committees I chair, we are asking both the session and the congregation to be making MANY changes in the near future and are not sure of everyone’s reaction. I would like to share your devotional with our session and at our annual meeting. I think it will help our ‘thinking’.

    Good day Mr. Ross
    I truly agree with your devotion today.
    I live in Trinidad and have been a Presbyterian all my life and saw no change. They have their beliefs and it remained for years.
    I carried my children all the time until they stopped no matter how many times I raised my voice and probably just thinking one day the neighbour would recommend me for psychiatric help.
    Nevertheless I still hope that the change can happen to get back our children and hopefully grandchildren to start making an initiative to go back.
    The change begins with us but the sad note here NO ONE LISTENS. Its sad but God always has a plan to show us the correct way.
    May you always continue to inspire everyone and never stop trying.
    God Bless.

    I thought your meditation was terrific. Let’s hope that it opens a lot of eyes and has good results.
    The earliest “Blue Book” I have is 1950.
    In 1950: 717 ministers served 176,786 members, a loss of 578 from 1949.
    In 2011: 1342 ministers served 102,785 members, a loss of 3,101 from 2011.
    Meanwhile the population of Canada went from 14,009,429 to 33,476,688.
    The figures show we are much better at growing ministers than members.
    If we were a company we would think of closing up shop or looking for an amalgamation.
    Perhaps the day of an Anglican Church for the English, a Lutheran for the Germans etc.
    and a Presbyterian for the Scots is no longer valid.
    However that route was taken in 1925 and later failed with the Anglicans and United, so this will be tough journey as it is for our Church looking ahead.
    In the meanwhile we may all rejoice in the goodness and loving support of God.

    Very interesting Robin,
    Hi Robin,
    The question…not the problem… of getting the youth into the churches is one that requires far more prayer than it is getting. Once the older generation gets to the prayer meeting more often and does what the Salvationists call “knee drill”, there can be very little hope of the question ever being answered. Only some Christians have agonized before God for the salvation of our youth. We don’t know the answers because too few of us are doing consultation. Far too many churches go from year to year without a formal weekly prayer meeting. But that is also not the total answer…and few of us know what it is. But if we pray God will reveal to us what we can and must do.
    But if it requires flexibility on the behalf of the older Christians that should definitely be one of the first requirements.
    Thanks for dealing with an urgent question Robin.

    Excellent presentation, Robin.
    I am in my 80’s, thus close to checking out but I will always be interested in missions.
    My wife and I are prayer partners at 100 Huntley Street and the question of which church should we direct inquirers to in order to be instructed and loved. Our conclusion:
    Look for a church where an Alpha course is taught. is also starting a program addressing young and old at their various stages of their journey to salvation. This is really exciting news which needs to be passed on to young and old, who then can pass it on to others and all this is available worldwide to English speaking and ESL WORLD.
    Thanks for sharing.

    Dear Robin,
    Thanks for the thought for today.
    We have had our yearly vision Sunday today at church and I believe 2 Chron. 15:1-7 is where we as a family, and as a church are to be in the coming year.
    We are not to compromise the Gospel in any way. However, it is presumptuous to think that we are fulfilling the Gospel in all the ways that we can.
    I believe it is right to portray our distinctiveness as humans from all parts of life/nationalities/backgrounds who have come together to share in a walk with God in all its fulness.
    That means different things to different situations at different times.
    Firstly we must be wholehearted to ourselves.
    Then we must be wholehearted to God – allowing God to enable transformation within according to the calling and the history we carry.
    Then when we have that sorted we can reach out to the family, church and then as a corporate body the unchurched.
    If the saltiness of Jesus is found to truly reside in us, sooner or later God will bless our obedience and faithfulness with new challenges to grow us as individuals and as a local and national church.
    We should never be overwhelmed by the task, as it is not ours to say when we are in season or not. WE can only be available to God to use us, change us, bless us and encourage us that we are not forgotten. Nor will His church fail, even if congregations do. Each generation has to find God for themselves. Fortunately for us God is more than willing to take what little we can offer and multiply it to His Glory.
    I wanted to affirm that I believe God is with you, and those who seek His face, and remains that way, and will honour that in due time, even if it may delay a while.
    Who cares what the world does about us? We can only be what we are called to be and serve as we are able to serve. God will not let anyone seeking His face be turned away. We just need to be vigilant in prayer for the world going down the plughole, and mindful that the church has no right to expect different if we have lost our love for Him in word, Spirit and action.
    I have been more aware of the spiritual warfare with all the godless I rub up against in child activities than I have ever had previously when being respected as a member of staff!! This has given me cause to pull my socks up, so to speak.
    May the Holy Spirit keep you and yours safe from harm and bless you with the joy of His presence and lead you in the way ahead as you seek His will day to day.

    Talking about change — would I be ready to see change in my church praying that my grandchildren would be attracted to enter? Would I ever and even if only for grandchildren that are not mine.
    For some time now I have used my I phone to bring up the bible translation we use in church. I have all ready been chastised for using it.
    But since then we have called and received a new younger minister plus a woman to look after small groups.
    I am personally looking forward to the change they hopefully might make.
    Today this minister got out his iPod or facsimile and asked the children to do same. They did and were able to look up the bible verses and read them.
    We must keep up with tech., as it has become a way of life. Look at the “Daily” Where would we be without it.
    “Change and Pain” It might be pain for the older members but think of the pain without change — if we have no future in the church for the next generation!

    Well said and so very true!

    Thank you for sharing this perspective on mission work with us, Robin. Blessings.

    Good morning Robin:
    Your message was exactly what we need to hear and to do. Otherwise, the sad outcome will prevail.

    You are obviously being used to stir things up.
    Let’s all stir things up, always under God’s hand.

    Hi Robin;
    I would like to share your devotional with our Church. It is so appropriate! Thank you.

    Your “Change and Pain” January 27 devotional is a reminder for all that sometimes just because we’ve been in the church longer than some, we assume we have all the right to have the final say! Remember it’s what our LORD wants that matters.


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