FIRST-PERSON: 'New' doesn't always mean 'bad'

GRAPEVINE, Texas (BP) -- "We've never done it this way before."

Change is hard. But refusal to change our methods while the culture around us constantly shifts is a sure death sentence for a church.

The message of the Gospel never changes, but the nature of the church's mission demands that we are ever-ready to step into new territory, embracing necessary, biblical change for the glory of God and for the sake of the Gospel. The Israelites faced this challenge under Joshua's leadership, recounted in Joshua 3:2-5, as they prepared to break camp and cross the Jordan River.

"[Y]ou haven't traveled this way before" (v.4). These words may cause a split in some churches, but not in the Israelite camp. They trusted the Lord's leadership, embracing the changes ahead of them, and they were not disappointed.

Here are a few important things about change to learn the Israelites' experience:

1. New does not always mean bad.

In the Bible, God often indicated that He was doing something new: a new song (Isaiah 42:10), a new name (Isaiah 62:2), a new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31), a new heart and a new spirit (Ezekiel 11:19), a new commandment (John 13:34), a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17), a new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2), and all things new (Revelation 21:5). How often do we miss what God is doing in us and around us because we associate new with bad? There were many unknown factors for the Israelites' new journey, but they embraced the change and stepped out in faith.

2. Wherever He leads, God goes before.

The Israelites had a concrete historical example of this truth from the pillars of cloud and fire that went ahead of their fathers (Exodus 13:21). In Joshua, chapter 3, God's presence is again going before them as the Ark of the Covenant leads the way into uncharted territory. Whatever is ahead of you as a congregation, if you embrace it with faith and step into it from a heart of obedient surrender to God's will, you'll not find yourself alone. God Himself has cut the path ahead and will be with you every step of the way.

3. Don't get ahead of God.

Necessary change is good. But effective, biblical change often takes time. The Israelites were to keep a distance of about a thousand yards between them and the ark: "Don't go near it, so that you can see the way to go" (v.4). Substantive change in the church needs to be approached with care, always keeping our eyes on the Lord. Wherever you go, the destination is not the prize; God's presence is the prize. If you see change ahead but cannot see God in it, don't go there or at least slow down.

4. Before stepping out into the unknown, get spiritually prepared.

"Consecrate yourselves," Joshua said, "because the Lord will do wonders among you tomorrow" (v.5). The church of Jesus should be stepping into every tomorrow with the expectation that "the Lord will do wonders" among us. Don't even think about following God into the unknown if you're not spiritually prepared to meet with Him there.

5. Don't be so committed to yesterday that you miss what God has for you tomorrow.

While the guiding presence of the Lord was evident in the ark's procession, it wasn't exactly like the pillar of cloud or smoke they knew only a generation before. And while the waters of the Jordan River stacked up for them to cross, it wasn't exactly like the parting of the Red Sea. Even Joshua himself was unlike Moses in many ways. Churches can be so committed to what God has done in their yesterdays that they completely miss Him in their tomorrows. If your expectation of tomorrow is that it must mirror the things of yesterday, you'll never step foot onto the promises that God has ahead of your church.

Embrace the new things God is doing in your church. Step into them with simple faith that the God of yesterday is also the God of tomorrow. No, you've never done it this way before. But maybe that's a good thing.

Tony Wolfe is director of pastor/church relations for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
Download Story