Churches are in the change business. We labor and strive to see people transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. The lost become redeemed. Orphans become adopted sons of God. Baby Christians become mature Christians. Hard hearts become soft towards the things of God. The list could go on.
The nature of the church’s mission is change. This happens in people’s lives and, as a result, in our culture and world. We often get sucked into the trap of giving people things to do. We settle for checklists instead of change. Every means of grace God provides us for transformation (Bible reading, worship, prayer, giving, fasting, etc.) can turned into legalistic works. Using them can make us feel holy—while never actually becoming holy. The scorecard is not “how big is your church?” or “are your people doing these practices/disciplines?,” it is “are people changing?”
So this raises the question: How do people change?
While many technical aspects and individual practices could be outlined (along with the Holy Spirit’s power), I want to give some general principles for us to remember.
Principle 1: People become like that which they behold.
Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian philosopher and public intellectual, coined a phrase: We become what we behold. McLuhan was born in 1911 and lived to see the rise of television and media influences on people. He believed people should be cautious with the media they consumed. What you are taking in, consuming, and beholding will shape you. You will become like what you behold.
As we think about the Great Commission, to go into all the world to make disciples and teach them to obey Jesus’ commands, we need to consider McLuhan’s aphorism. What our congregants behold is what they become like. If they behold climbing the corporate ladder, they will reflect those attributes (constantly working, cut-throat to co-workers, etc.). If they behold popularity, they will reflect those attributes (hides mistakes and flaws, vanity, etc.). If you behold political commentators all day, you will stay mad and see conspiracies around every corner. People transform into what they behold.
Principle 2: Becoming like Jesus happens as eyes are fixed on him.
The apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18 “And we all with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” An unveiled face is able to see. With unveiled face, we behold, we see, we fix our eyes on Jesus. As we behold Jesus, we are transformed into the same image we behold, from one degree of glory to the next. This is how people change. To behold something is not simply to see it. We behold things that are majestic and breathtaking. We behold sunsets, oceans, mountains, and newborns. We behold Jesus. With unveiled faces we help people to see Jesus as incomparably glorious. Again, they become like that which they behold.
Principle 3: Fruit of the Spirit manifests in lives being changed.
In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul outlines the marks of spiritual growth in a believer. His list includes: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These spiritual fruits grow in the one whose life is firmly rooted in the gospel. The one who beholds Christ will manifest these attributes, Jesus’ attributes.
Principle 4: Community is the Context for change.
Spiritual growth, while personal, is never private. We need others. Consider for a moment this reality: spiritual fruit can only be truly tested in community. Who can claim to love or have patience or gentleness apart from community? An isolated lifestyle is not where kindness and self-control are tested. These fruits grow in community. As we behold Christ vertically, and live with others horizontally, we manifest spiritual fruit. This is why encouraging people to move from rows (at church) to circles (in groups) is non-negotiable.
How does it all work? How can these principles be applied? First, we continuously preach and teach on the wonders and glories of Christ. To behold Christ, they must see him as altogether lovely and worthy of adoration. Second, we labor to instill the value of community, then create pathways for people to get connected. As people live in community, and interact with other sinners, spiritual fruit manifests in their lives. Through regular involvement with people different from us, or someone saying something offensive, or people not following through on commitments, we have a chance to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit.
It is not easy, but it happens as we behold Jesus. We take the motto: As Christ has been to me, I will be to others. As Christ has been patient with me, I will be to others. As Christ demonstrated gentleness towards me, so I will be to others. As Christ showed love to me, so I will be to others. In other words, the fruit of the Spirit manifests as we set our eyes back on Jesus and behold how he has treated us. The gospel reminds us of how undeservingly and lavishly good Jesus has been to us. As we behold him, it changes us. As we change, it is evident in our feelings towards, and interactions with, others.
Pastors, we are in the change business. Lets remember how it actually happens.