What do all these quotes have in common?
- “People have stopped singing in church. We need to use hymnbooks again.”
- “No one wants solid bible teaching anymore.”
- “People used to have respect for God’s house. Now they show up late with a coffee in their hand, like they just rolled out of bed.”
- “The church started collapsing when we stopped holding Sunday evening evangelistic services.”
- “Pastors in this day and age aren’t preachers, they’re entertainers.”
All those quotes have two things in common. Three, actually.
First, they were all said or written by fellow ministers recently.
Second, they’re all backwards-looking.
Third, none of them are true!
The False Idol of “The Way It Used To Be”
Sure, the church of today has problems. But that’s nothing new. The church has always had problems. Half the books in the New Testament were written to address problems in the first century church – a church we’re guilty of over-idealizing to the point of idolatry, sometimes.
It’s a myth that the church was ever an ideal place of pure worship and fellowship. Not in the first century. Not when we were kids.
It’s also a myth that the way to fix the problems in today’s church – both real and imagined – is to go back to the way we used to do things.
But none of those things are old or backwards-looking. They are the most forward-looking, paradigm-shifting, inertia-busting principles the world has ever known.
Every car needs a rear-view mirror. So does every church. But you can’t move forward by staring into it.
The past is gone. The future is coming – fast.
When We Keep Looking Back at the “Good Old Days”…
1. We Ignore What’s Great About Today
We live in the most exciting, promising, possibility-filled era of world- and church history.
From new technologies that have removed barriers to communicating the Gospel, to a renewed world-wide hunger for things of a spiritual nature, there are more possibilities to reach more people with the life-changing Gospel of Jesus right now than there has ever been.
For instance, Twitter just came out with a new app called Periscope (on the heels of a similar app called Meerkat). With this free app, it is now possible for any church with wi-fi, or within mobile phone service area, to live-stream their services (or anything else) for free.
If Twitter has it today, similar apps will be on Facebook and other social media sites within a year, making paying for live-stream a thing of the past.
But too many churches are clinging to the idea that the only people they can reach are those who live within driving distance of the church building.
Yes, that matters. Gathering in the same time and place with flesh-and-blood people is essential for the true church experience. Technology will never be church. But the coming wave of technology will be able to extend the reach of our churches in unimaginable ways. If we’re willing to look ahead instead of behind.
2. We Miss the Great Things That Are Coming
If today’s possibilities for spreading the Gospel are unprecedented, tomorrow’s promise is likely to be even greater.
We’re all looking for God to do the next great thing. A revival of his spirit. But what if he does it and we miss it because we didn’t see it coming? Because we spent more time complaining about today and wishing for the past than preparing for the future?
If we’re always looking back to what God did, we might miss the next thing God wants to do. Or, if it happens and it doesn’t look like what he did before (cuz that’s how God works) we might even find ourselves fighting it.
Why is so much of the church always surprised by societal shifts and trends?
Because it’s hard to see what’s coming when you’re staring in the rear-view mirror.
Knowing what’s coming doesn’t mean embracing everything about what’s coming. But if we can see it coming instead of being surprised when it arrives, we can be more prepared to respond biblically.
By the time the church sees a new trend, that trend is usually over.
People need help with today’s problems right now. Not 20 years from now when we finally get around to writing curriculum for it.
4. We’re Asking for Something That Can Never Happen
Second only to the fact that the church of the past was never the ideal place we have in our heads, this may be the biggest reason I refuse to complain about “the church these days”.
You can never go back! Yes, we all travel through time. But that trip is in one direction and at one speed. Forward. A day at a time.
When we long for the supposed good old days, we’re asking for something that can never happen.
5. We Stop Learning
I’ve actually heard stubborn pastors say they refuse to go to church conferences or read church leadership books and blogs because there’s nothing new to learn.
There’s always something new to learn – new to me, at least.
6. We Stifle Creativity and Innovation
Truth never changes. Methods must.
If we’re always looking back to what used to be, there’s no way we’ll be ready, not just to see the next big thing, but to hear God’s voice when he wants us to be the ones taking the lead instead of following.
Jesus changed everything. The common people saw it. The religious leaders, with their eyes locked onto the rear-view mirror, missed it.
Some things haven’t changed much in 2,000 years. But that one should.
7. We Turn the Past Into a False God
There are some church leaders who are so intent on doing the newest, coolest thing that the latest methods and styles have become a false god.
We need to keep our roots firmly planted in the soil of a first-century rabbi who changed everything. Hold fast to the God who never changes, but who brings radical transformation to everything he touches.
There’s no change in the rear-view mirror.
We need to be willing to say, in the words of the old song, “break me, melt me, mold me, use me.”
In short, “change me.”
So what do you think? What other problems do you see with the church’s obsession with the rear-view mirror?
We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
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