Thursday, September 22, 2011

On Changing the Name of a Church - Part 2

Following up on part 1 of this series, let me address a second reason why a church might consider changing a name, namely, to distance yourselves from problems of the past without going so far as to actually reconstitute.

Every church (or organization) is has a history, and most histories of any length are probably going to have some unsavory moments in them. Some of these issues, depending on their visibility, can cause a church to develop a reputation that is not good for the gospel in a community.

It may be their history of financial dealings. It may be a string (or single occurrence) of unethical or illegal behaviors by high profile leaders or members. It may have to do with the stance on community relations or racial relationships. It may have to do with a previous pastor’s ministry emphasis. And the possibilities go on.

Sometimes, these things can be dealt with by public statements and restitution where possible. And as much as possible they should be.

But on occasion, these things have so badly damaged the testimony of the church in the community that renaming the church may be a very wise thing to do.

Renaming your church can provide a fresh start and some distance from the past. It can say, “We are a new old,” or “We are an old new.” It can change away from the focus from “The church where the youth pastor molested a girl” or “The church where the pastor stole $100,000 and left the creditors unpaid.”

However, this must not be used as a way to avoid legal or moral obligations. Neither should it be done while retaining the people or policies that were either cause or contributor to the problem. In other words, this is not an “easy way out.”

Changing a name for this reason is, in my opinion, more controversial that closing a church and restarting it. It runs several risks.

First, it runs the risk of simply being wrong on the issues. Some pastors lead churches to apologize for things that weren’t necessarily wrong. Just because someone differs on philosophy of ministry does not mean that they have compromised the gospel or hurt the church.

Second, it runs the risk of attacking faithful believers by implicitly (or explicitly) accusing them of something that they didn’t do, or that wasn’t wrong for them to do. It can become an attack on the heritage of godliness that has preceded a particular ministry at a church.

Third, it runs the risk of shaming the gospel and the church by becoming just another church that finds fault with everyone who doesn’t do things their way. It can become the pastor pursuing his pet issues without respect for the larger body of Christ.

Fourth, it runs the risk of further damaging the church’s testimony in a community because it can appear to be a rather transparent way to avoid problems, like putting lipstick on a pig.

So tread carefully here, and consider whether some other tack may be more effective for the gospel.

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