Bob Dylan's song "The Times They Are A-Changin'" was released back in 1964 during an era of civil rights, social unrest, and political protest. For those of us who were living back then we would surely agree it was a time where things were changing! But the '60's weren't the only times that experienced great change. I suppose that in modern times the same thing could be said about any decade. And even now change seems to be happening at record speed in all spheres of life and culture: political, social, moral, economic, environmental, etc.
As Christians we've surely noted much change over the past few decades. This fact was highlighted to me recently by some old friends from New Zealand, Ian and Glenys Bayne. Ian is the pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Wellington, NZ. Ian and Glenys actually lived here in the B'ham area for a year or so back 10+ years ago. The Baynes also hosted our son, Addison, for 9 months back in 2006-07 during his gap year between high school and college. So we've known them quite a while and wanted to visit with them during their current holiday (vacation) here in the USA. Anita and I enjoyed talking, laughing, catching up, getting updates on various folks with the Baynes.
Ian mentioned a couple of times that things have drastically changed here since their last visit a decade ago. Ian said things are different here ... much less "Christian" ... much closer to the pagan / post-Christian culture he's familiar with in New Zealand. The last stanza of Dylan's song appropriately reminds us of how "rapidly fadin" are the values we once held here in the good ol' Bible-belt southern USA.
The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’
This made me start thinking and asking myself a question - "I've been here at Community for almost 30 years and have seen many changes in our congregation and community but have we done a good job adapting our ministry model to the fundamental changes that have and are still taking place all around us?" I've concluded the answer is most likely "no." There are many things we do well as a church that shouldn't change and the core message of the gospel we proclaim certainly never changes. But have we been good students of the culture and made sure our ministry best meets the needs of the community in which we live? Have we adjusted our methods of reaching the unbeliever so that we can better relate to their way of thinking? Have we modified our ways of fellowship to facilitate better opportunities for people to live in community with one another? Have we tweaked our mercy ministry strategy as people's "needs" have evolved over the past several years? etc.
The temptation is to merely be trendy, utilize worldly principles at the expense of Biblical/theological integrity, allow culture to dictate what we do and how we do it, and merely give people what they want. This obviously isn't our goal or desire. But we really do need to make sure we understand that the Moody/Leeds we knew 10-15 years ago no longer exists (so says the objective voice of a friend from New Zealand) and we have the responsibility to make sure that all we do is both Biblically/theologically sound and culturally sensible and applicable.
But there is hope in the midst of all this change. The times truly are a-changin' and God is absolutely in control of it all. Did you catch the line in Dylan's song ... "the first one now will later be last." Might this be a reference to Mark 10:31? - "But many who are first will be last, and the last first." The life of a follower of Jesus Christ is constantly changing as we daily are to take up our cross, die to self, and live for Christ and holiness. This is a life of change because our sinful hearts are continually telling us to be first, to be the greatest, to exalt ourselves. Let's be those who are not freaked out by change ... rather let's learn to adjust to changing times! And let's embrace the change of learning to be "last" as the Scripture calls us to be.