About this blog title… I hate those five words. I heard them recently at a roundtable discussion for pastors, and it’s not the first time I’ve heard them and it probably won’t be the last.
As a pastor, the first time I heard them spoken was after I left my first church and started at my second. My first church was a small country church I served for three years while working on my Masters. When it came to me and some of the people there, we didn’t always see eye-to-eye. They were officially “non-denominational” with a hodgepodge background that included United Methodist, American Baptist, and pre-and-post-conservative resurgence SBC. Theologically and politically there were some divides.
Yet, my experience there was great. Even though some of the people disagreed with me and we pushed back and forth on some issues, they loved me and I loved them. I drove my 70-mile round trip, preached the Bible (often poorly as I was just starting out), collected a meager pay that barely covered the newly spiking gas prices, and repeated the next week. Attendance nearly doubled in that time, giving increased, people came to know Jesus, and people grew in their faith.
After I left I had a hand in securing another student from the seminary to pastor. A few months into his tenure, he had butted heads with one of the ladies, sought counsel from the church of which he had been a part before pastoring, and decided to resign in part because the leaders there told him, “Some people just never change.” I tried to talk him out of it, but alas…
This past weekend that phrase came up again. A pastor was having a difficult time at his church and was seeking advice from other pastors in the roundtable session. That’s when this gem came up again. Some people just never change.
On the one hand, I understand the sentiment behind it. Many, if not all, pastors have faced difficulties that threatened to drive them to quit. Some people can be extremely difficult. You wonder if some people are even saved and if they are then will they ever grow out of their infantile attitudes? It’s an easy attempt at comfort to speak in the face of difficult people: “You just have to realize, that’s the way some people are. They never change.”
So we go off nodding our heads, breathing a sigh, and vowing to either ignore them or to quit them. After all, we’ve been told and convince ourselves, they never change.
Yet whatever sense of relief it provides, such an attitude hides the ugly truth that we’re preaching and believing a very small gospel.
The good news of Jesus is that God is in the business of changing people through his grace, power, Spirit, and word. God takes sinners and transforms them into saints. He takes that which is dead and brings it to life. He takes a heart of stone that stands in complete opposition to him and creates a new heart that beats for him. A seed is planted, he gives growth, and then he nurtures it and crops out the bad so more good fruit can sprout.
The process is sometimes slow and painful. Sometimes we wonder if that little bud is going to turn into anything. But God is faithful to work in the hearts of his people.
Change is the business we are in.
Yes, as we proclaim and teach God’s word, there may be some whose ears remain deaf. They may go their entire lives without receiving the gospel. But from our point of view, we must see change as possible until they breathe their last. Otherwise what’s the point?
I am not ashamed of the gospel, Paul wrote, for it is the power of salvation for all who believe.
“Some people just never change.” But they will change if their hearts are gripped by the power of God manifest in his gospel. Yes, we are up against hard, cold, dead, and stony hearts. We cannot cause change, but with God it is possible. Let us not shrink the gospel with the cold despair of never. Instead, let us proclaim and magnify the name of Jesus in the hope of this has the power to radically transform them.