Growth=Change: Recognition

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Some people see a change / Some will remain the same… / Some see the road as clear / Some say the end is here / They say it’s a hopeless fight, well I say I gotta try[1]

Michael McDonald

The song lyrics above come from a Michael McDonald song in 1982. The song is a lament about the need to change what we are while at the same time realizing some people will never see it. And to paraphrase Bob Dylan, the times they have not a-changed much. We are a people of contradiction: we love the idea of growth and hate the idea of change. People still want the benefits of change, but they want it without having to do or be anything other than what they are now. Many churches I have pastored have said they want things to change while adamantly fighting to keep everything the same.

There’s a scientific reason for this. The reason has little to do with whether things are factual or provable and more to do with where or more importantly, who they come from. Elizabeth Svoboda, a researcher from Berkeley writes,

Most of us have a strong drive to hold on to pre-existing beliefs and convictions, which keep us anchored in the world. When your stance on controversial issues both cements your group identity and plants you in opposition to perceived enemies, changing it can exact a high personal toll.

“We are social animals instinctively reliant on our tribe for safety and protection…Any disloyalty literally feels dangerous, like the tribe will kick you out. This effect is magnified in people already worried.”[2]

Elizabeth Svodoba

What this means is that to many people, change feels like a betrayal of the people we learned our ideas from. It is as if we are having to say not only are the ideas are wrong but the people who told them to us are wrong. Rather than recognize that we learn as a society (the world is not flat, the earth revolves around the sun, smoking is bad for you) we push back, double down, and try to protect what we know. This conflict is all too common when we are presented with information that conflicts with what we know. When we come to a place where we give these new ideas an opportunity to be tested, or we feel a need or desire to change, it creates something scientists call cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is an uneasy or uncomfortable feeling of holding or sorting beliefs that conflict with each other.

This sort of dissonance, uneasiness with change, has been a part of human experience so long as human beings have been alive. I imagine this happened to the people of Colossae from the passage we read. Colossae was an old city in Asia Minor, one where history and social patterns were well established during the time Jesus was first introduced. “In the first century AD it was still an important city. Like the other cities in the Lycus valley, its economic success was connected to textile industries, with Colossae being famous for its distinctive black wool (Pliny the Elder, Nat. Hist. 21.51).”[3] Amid people worshiping various Roman deities and Jewish synagogues, Epaphras, a disciple and missionary, helped to start a church. This was no easy task as starting churches from scratch never is, but it was made harder by the fact that no one knew of this Jesus from some backwater province on the eastern edge of the Roman Empire. We have a hard enough time planting churches in the United States where Christianity has long been ingrained in society, so I imagine it was significantly harder for Epaphras to convince people to follow the Way of Jesus when Jesus was a complete unknown. The dissonance of tradition would have been greater and left Epaphras with the task of patiently waiting on the Holy Spirit.

And yet, Epaphras, led by the Spirit of God, managed to do just that. Over time, with one convert after another, a church was established. I imagine some were swayed by Epaphras words, some by the practices of Christianity (care for orphans, widows, the poor), and some, maybe many by family members and friends who experienced the Holy Spirit for themselves. Being a follower of Jesus didn’t become the preferred religion of Colossae but there were enough people who heard the message and were led by the Spirit to see the world another way. The people of the Colossian church were moving in one direction, heard the good news about Jesus—his way of life, ministry, death, and resurrection—and changed direction. The writer of Colossians says, 

We’ve done this since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all God’s people. You have this faith and love because of the hope reserved for you in heaven. You previously heard about this hope through the true message, the good news, which has come to you. This message has been bearing fruit and growing among you since the day you heard and truly understood God’s grace, in the same way that it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world. (Colossians 1:4-6)

Colossians 4

This work is often painful. It calls us to let go of what is comfortable, at least long enough to test it, and examine it. Seminary was a time of this kind of change for me. I went to seminary pretty sure of myself and my beliefs. I knew the truth, my truth, or so I thought. After being introduced to a wide range of subjects which deal with things like where the bible comes from, the history of the church, Greek and Hebrew languages, social sciences, and a host of other things, I found myself in a period of doubt and struggle. It was only after I leaned into the possibility that I might need to learn some new things in new ways that the uneasiness, the dissonance began to go away. I didn’t change my mind about everything, but I found myself learning that many things I thought I knew, I had not really had the chance to truly learn.

With all that in mind, how do we go about change? 

To change, we must first realize the need for change. If you cannot see the need to change, you won’t. The first step is coming to a place where you literally repent, which is from the Greek word (metanoia) or changing direction. But to come to that step we have recognize there will be struggle and we must make the conscious choice to work through it. Many of us worry that struggling with our faith means losing our faith. But to test our faith is not losing it: it is proving it. Paul says to the Thessalonians, “Don’t suppress the Spirit. Don’t brush off Spirit-inspired messages but examine everything carefully and hang on to what is good.” The Spirit, if you listen, will reveal to you those things in need of change or letting go and those things to hold onto. But we must be honest with ourselves and honest with the Spirit. And when that honesty reveals things that need to change, we need to have the courage to live into the change, even when we struggle, and others struggle with our newfound understanding. 

I want to go back to those lyrics from the beginning,

Some people see a change / Some will remain the same… / Some see the road as clear / Some say the end is here / They say it’s a hopeless fight, well I say I gotta try[4]

Michael McDonald

There is great truth in those lyrics and greater truth in scripture itself. The call to discipleship is a call to change, to mold our way of life into one that mirrors the Way of Jesus. Some will hear this message and will dig in their heels on what they believe. They have no need for change, no reason to think change or growth is necessary, though they might give lip service to it. Some will hear this and think, “Yeah. I might need to think about some things,” but then Monday comes, and everything is lost in the shuffle. But some of you, some of you will hear this and think, “It’s time. It’s time to look at journey of faith. It’s time to stop standing still or better yet, letting others hold me in place. It’s time to move forward. The fight is not hopeless. I gotta try.”

Which of these are you? Are you willing to put your money where your mouth is? Are willing to learn, to grow, to be the change?

[1] (McDonald 1982)


[3] The World of the New Testament. Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[4] (McDonald 1982)