There is a saying I once heard RC Sproul say “If you find the perfect church, leave because you’ll ruin it.” The obvious implication was that there are no perfect churches. I don’t believe I ever met anyone (minister, member, child, visitor) who didn’t have something about their church they didn’t like. I think some important questions are “What do you do when you have theological convictions that are different from the practice of your church?” “Can we bring about change in the church?” “What should be our attitude when our church makes changes we disagree with?”
It is not uncommon for a member of a church to conclude that their church is either “Doing it wrong” or “the old way was better”. Some people are at churches that are weak, either theologically or in practice, and the pastor/session is making it worse. While some churches are weak, either theologically or in practice, and the congregation feels it when they are made in line with the standards. I have seen, experienced and heard both scenarios. And both can be painful for both the congregation and leadership.
First and most importantly we must recognize that we are a sinful people. We are more prone to sin that we think we are. “I have it right.” “They have it wrong.” “If only they thought like me then they would see how things are supposed to work.” Does that describe you? Of course, everyone falls into this description. However this is pride. We must pray that God would keep us from these sinful attitudes. As ordained servants of God, we should give our ministers, elders and deacons the benefit of the doubt.
How are you to bring about a change in your church? It isn’t impossible. I can think of instances where someone brought something to mind that was very helpful. Before you become one of the many opinions on how worship “should be” take note of a couple of things. How long have you been in your church? Have you just gotten there? Have you been there for decades? Are you a minister? Are you an elder or deacon? Maybe you’re on staff in a different capacity? Everyone should take this into consideration. I am of the persuasion that the more you are involved in the church by either position of authority, responsibility or service to the church then you should do more to bring about reform. The less you are involved, or the less time you have spent in the church then it would make sense for you to do less to bring about a change in the church.
Something else to consider is the importance of the change you are praying about. Is this a preference? Is it serious? We may not like the personality of someone in leadership but that is not the same as a character flaw. Do you have theological concerns? Are they weighty or are they trivial? Consider the church. Are you in a Baptist church and you think they should baptize children instead of doing “baby dedications”? Are you a Calvinist at a Methodist church? Do you reject pre-millennial dispensational theology but you’re in a Calvary Chapel? You can’t blame a Reformed minister for teaching reformed theology. If you’re at a Pentecostal church and believe speaking in tongues is unbiblical it may not be appropriate to bring about reform to their practice. Are they in line with their tradition? If they are, it is not your business to make that church something they are not. It isn’t reasonable for an independent baptist congregation to hold to the Westminster Confession of Faith. On the other hand, it is very reasonable for a PCA church to be held accountable to their confessional standards. If you have new theological convictions that are out of line with the entire history of that church/denomination then it is best not to plan for change. You can either peaceably submit or quietly leave.
The other big caution is DONT TALK! I don’t know how else to say this. When we disagree we talk. When we talk we build up discontent within the congregation. This is entirely inappropriate. It is gossip. It is divisive and not helpful at all to the body. You become like a plague in the flock. You must not create a schism in the church. Your goal can not be to create a church within the church. You must seek the purity, unity and peace of the church first and always.
Consider encouraging your pastor with positive encouragement. Give them a book (maybe an article or journal article to read). When you approach the pastor or Session do it with prayer. We can make errors but we don’t all have to be Martin Luther shouting “Unless I am persuaded by Scripture…” I always appreciate those who would come up to give me considerate feedback. The point is that they are coming to me rather than stirring up the flock. Direct confrontation is always better than gossip so take it to the minister or elders either through an email or in person.
If you have a minister who is bringing about a new direction of the church and the elders are behind it and the majority of the congregation is on board, then wisdom would say “peaceably submit or quietly leave.” Perhaps you have spoken with the elders and/or pastor and they have given you a response you disagree with. I think a helpful biblical illustration to remember is Saul and David. David wouldn’t touch Saul when he could have killed him because he recognized that Saul was the anointed one of God. David knew that God always works through imperfect people.
We submit to our leaders because God has placed them providentially over us. We must focus not to be divisive for our love for the body. We should work to focus on the good things rather than those points of disagreement. We seek the “unit, the purity, and the peace” of the body (PCA membership vows).