In a recent survey, Lifeway Research explored the reasons people switch church congregations. For some, it was a residential move or feeling like the church wasn’t helping them grow spiritually.

But for 29 percent of respondents, the shift happened because the church itself changed in a way they didn’t like. Perhaps even more interestingly, when asked what changed that they didn’t like, 53 percent categorized their response by saying too many things had changed “in general.”

This category of things changing “in general” is a small example of how disorienting change can be for people. We may not be able to name exactly what has shifted or why, but the fact that it has shifted makes us want to shift, too. In most cases, we want to move away from change.

This aversion to change presents a dilemma for Christians. As much as we hold the timeless truth of the Gospel, we also know change is inevitable. We do not worship the way first, fourth or even 15th-century Christians did, even if we worship the same Christ. So how can we learn to navigate change instead of simply avoiding it? What would it take to engage with a changing world and remain faithful in it?

Cyclical change

To be faithful through change, we must accept it as a normal part of life. In fact, Eccl. 1:5-7 suggests that God built cycles of change into creation.

The sun rises and the sun sets;
panting, it hurries back to the place
where it rises.
Gusting to the south,
turning to the north,
turning, turning, goes the wind,
and the wind returns in its cycles.
All the streams flow to the sea,
yet the sea is never full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again. 

The simple fact of natural cycles holds profound truth—one we engage with every day. We understand the weather is constantly changing, the winds blowing in different fronts as the water cycle drops precipitation in various forms. We have apps and forecasts, and we try to predict what will happen, but all we’re really doing is trying to make sense of changes and prepare for them.

At the same time, change does not mean chaos or randomness. Weather patterns may change from day to day or week to week, but the seasons change in regular, predictable cycles. So regular that the ancients learned to navigate by the rotation of the stars and established planting and harvesting schedules based on changes in the heavens. Gen. 1:14 even tells us God created these changing, rotating heavenly bodies to “serve as signs for seasons and for days and years” (CSB).

Regular patterns of change are part of our lives as well. Eccl. 3:1-11, a text made famous by The Byrds’ rendition of  “Turn, Turn, Turn,” tells us that “There is an occasion for everything, and a time for every activity under heaven: a time to give birth and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot; a time to kill and a time to heal…” (Eccl. 3:1-3a, CSB).

Just as the seasons change in cyclical ways, personal and spiritual growth also happens in cyclical, non-linear patterns. Given our love of data and charts, we might be tempted to think of growth as an always upward-trending line. But maturation happens more often by cycling change. Like a needle on a record player, we may feel like we’re spinning in circles, but each turn of the orbit moves us ever closer to the center of our being—God Himself.

In this way, learning to be faithful through change means learning to recognize and embrace whatever season we’re currently in as God-given. There are specific things to learn and do in this moment. So instead of resisting change, we must learn to receive it as from God. We must with the Teacher understand that God is behind each change. “He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also put eternity in their hearts” (Eccl. 3:11a, CSB).

At the right time

Another way the tension of trusting God through life’s changes can be understood is by the difference between chronos time and kairos time. Both Greek words are used in Scripture, but they mean slightly different things. Chronos time measures time chronologically—the way we use a calendar, clock or timeline. There is a steady, consistent progression of time toward the future with certain events scheduled along the way. Kairos time, on the other hand, speaks to “the right time”—the time when everything falls into place for something to happen. Kairos time is what we mean when we talk about “seizing a moment” or that “opportunity only knocks once.”

The trouble with kairos time is that it is not predictable. Change comes, but it doesn’t necessarily align with chronological time. In late March, the calendar may say it’s spring, but if you put your seedlings out before the weather is right, they’re not going to make it. Instead, you have to pay attention to weather patterns, track temperature changes and attune yourself to the world around you to determine when the moment is right for planting.

Spiritually speaking, living in kairos time means learning to walk in step with God’s changing timetable. Sometimes it might require us to delay or wait, but it could just as easily call us to accelerate our steps and enter into a new season before we’re ready.

But when we’re walking in step with God, we can trust that whatever changes come will be aligned with His purposes. We may not understand the changes in the moment. They might make us nervous or unsettled. But we can rest in the promise that God is working for our good and His glory. He is doing things beyond what we can ask or think. Our job is to move with the currents of change that He is bringing to us.

Because of His faithfulness, we can let go of the past (Eccl. 7:10) and look to the future with expectation in His promises. In Isaiah 43, the prophet observes how this kind of trust leads to hope:

Do not remember the past events;
pay no attention to things of old.
Look, I am about to do something new;
even now it is coming. Do you not see it?
Indeed, I will make a way in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert. 
Isa. 43:18-19, CSB

For the Christian, change is ultimately fenced by God’s own faithfulness. Our hope rests in a God who Himself does not change even as He brings change to us. And from His faithfulness, we find we can be faithful, trusting He will keep us secure even if the entire world were to shift around us. We know God will bring forth His purposes in each new season, and with hymn writer Katharina von Schlegel, we can declare:

Be still, my soul! the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul! thy best, thy heav’nly Friend
Thro’ thorny ways leads to a joyful end.


Photo by Anastasia Petrova on Unsplash