When a church leadership wants to implement change, Romans chapters 12-16 sets the parameters:
Change must be for the sake of mission: Christ died for the circumcised in order that the Gentiles might glory God for his mercy (15:8).
Yet, change cannot be implemented without carrying the burden of the weak: Romans 15:1-3 We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbour for his good, to build him up. 3 For Christ did not please himself.
So, where traditions have formed, as they do, and these traditions are held by some as a way of honouring God, then the strong must proceed with care. Romans 14:20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God.
Paul divides the church in Rome into the weak and the strong in faith, the strong being the Roman Christians and the weak the Jewish Christians. The strong do not believe tradition is important, as Christ’s death for sin and justification by faith render tradition unimportant. The weak have not yet grasped the extent of their freedom in Christ and so hold to some traditions (food laws and holy days amongst others) as a way of honouring God.
Paul also divided the church in the loving and the unloving, both Jew and Gentile believers appear to have been guilty of not loving each other. The radical challenge of justification by faith alone is Christians must love those whom God loves, despite their differences on second order issues: Romans 12:9 Let love be genuine; Romans 12:10 Love one another (Jew and Gentile) with brotherly affection; Romans 13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
Biblical church leadership can, therefore, be represented in the following way (the diagram assumes that all are saved by believing the gospel (Romans 10:8-10) and they keep the law to express their love for each other (Romans 13:8), i.e. they are united on the first order issues):
Leadership needs to be strong in faith and loving. This leadership is Christ-centred so missional but it does not make changes to the detriment of the faith of members of the church. Bearing with the weaker members, change is patient, considerate as weaker members are built up in their faith in Christ as their Saviour before they are asked to let go of traditions they believe honour God.
When leadership is strong but unloving, the weaker member is walked over as changes are made for the sake of mission. This leadership is bold, brash and destructive, as weaker members fall away from faith and the church falls into dispute.
Weak and unloving leaders become ritualistic and judgemental of anyone who does not value their rituals. “We do things this way at this church” is the rallying call and other ways of doing things are judged to be inferior ways of honouring God (14:3)
And lastly, weak and loving leaders are timid, not doing the work of mission because they are not sure of the God they are serving nor what the gospel of Christ is. They form loving traditions which make people feel welcome, warm and comfortable, based on the traditions of men and not on the gospel of Christ.
Paul’s imperative for leaders is to loving build people upon in the gospel so that they might let go of time honoured traditions for the sake of mission. A healthy church comes before mission and a strong and loving leadership comes before change.