With my training in Church Leadership and Revitalization, I get an opportunity to chat with other church leaders and to meet up with churches that are experiencing some health issues. In this work, congregants always seem surprised that the source of the issue is inside of their hearts, and not in the church structure. I often find myself saying, “It isn’t the building that is unhealthy– it’s us.” In this, I thought this article might be a good place to chat about a common issue among churches– and an attitude that can just as easily affect any of us; a health condition called, “The Past is My Hero”.
I visited one church community a few years ago– and while driving through town– I thought I’d stop at the local bank (my bank had a branch there) and deposit my check. I was surprised to see that the bank was closed on Thursday morning– after 10am. The front door showed it was closed– EVERY Thursday at 10am. In fact, EVERYTHING was closed in town. When I got to my destination, I asked a congregant about this– and they told me the reason for this is because the train came through town to deliver supplies on Thursday. I wondered about this, since I hadn’t passed any train tracks in town– and the congregant replied, “Oh– the train hasn’t come through in about 70 yrs…”
Lots of our churches are waiting for the train of people to show up– to bring new life and new promise… we do things exactly the same way and we wait for the same results. The truth is that Jesus doesn't work like that. When we read about Jesus’ ministry in the Gospels– He NEVER sat in the same place for very long. Jesus ALWAYS was doing new things– with NEW people and reaching beyond barriers to reach into new territories. The Disciples were often very out of breath, just trying to keep pace with Jesus. By comparison, many church ministries are often VERY predictable, VERY unmoving and entirely unsurprising. My goodness, in our Gospels, the moment that the Disciples thought that they knew where Jesus was going to go walking next, they found Him out walking on WATER!
While we aren’t Jesus and we should never presume to be– we ARE followers of Jesus. Like the Disciples, we need to at least try to keep up with Him. That is our job! We have to TRY to keep up, because the moment we want to set up camp, we aren’t following Him anymore. In our Scriptures, we read at the Transfiguration, the Disciples wanted to build a temple and set up camp. It’s our nature to try to just wait for Jesus to do all the work… to just wait for the train to arrive. That church that I spoke with was clear about their intentions. Collectively, they said, “We’ll die before we change.” And they did.
When you look at the greatest heroes of our Scriptures, they aren’t individuals who cling to the past– or try to ‘recover’ the ‘good ole days’. Our Scriptural heroes are people of amazing character who are pushing ahead and striving onward to the future of God's promise. Our Scriptural heroes aren’t waiting on God to deliver the Kingdom of God, but are those who are getting busy with the work of laying the foundation for the Kingdom– right here– right now. I am glad to be part of a church that has many such individuals that are laying that same foundation– engaging themselves in the amazing (and very busy) work of Jesus Christ. I think we all can easily catch a case of ‘The Past Is My Hero’, but together we can see the bright future of God’s Promise that is better than anything in our past. It’s difficult to stop waiting for the train to arrive, but it’s far better to walk on water with Jesus!