Ecclesiastes 7:10 “Don’t long for the good old days. This is foolish.”
In my daily Bible reading, this passage jumped at me from the blue-tinted screen of my computer. As a young lead pastor I am often seen as the steam roller of all “good old days” in the church. I often forego a tie, use a new Bible translation (NLT), and rarely open a hymnal. My decisions have been misunderstood as contentious or careless as I have changed forms and objects that have served beautifully in bringing people closer to God. Much of the change I bring lacks a reverence to these existing church structures that I cannot deny.
I want to be clear: I love what God has done in our church and the faithfulness of those who have served over the years. Everything we build today stands on the shoulders of those who have come before us. My great-grandmother attended small church meetings in the city of Trenton that would become the church I serve at today. By God’s grace, our youth ministry believed in and told a scrawny 14 year old that God saw value in him and wanted a relationship. These paved the way for the many opportunities I have had to serve God in this community. I have performed the funerals of many saints who have loved me in word and in deed. I am grateful for every prayer and every sacrifice made.
I am so grateful for what God has done that I refuse to let it remain in the past. I believe God when he says in Isaiah “For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?” (Isaiah 43:19 ) The God that reigned over our good old days is alive and well today. He is moving ahead of us and pointing toward his next great work in the local and global Church. But, we won’t be able to see what he is doing today when we are too busy looking behind at what he has done. There are generations living now who need to know that there is healing from brokenness in Jesus Christ. There are global issues today that need the transformative voice of the Gospel. Where can the church move and be effective in the near future?
I serve a revitalization church. Our heart is to connect our legacy with our future through the values, rather than the methods, that make Christian community work. Carey Nieuwhof calls this “confusing the mission and the method”. For the church, our mission is always sacred, our method never is. Our mission is to know God and to make him known (John 17:3). How we accomplish this can have as many expressions as people on earth, but we have one mission. This mission not only unites us as a community, but also draws us together with all those who have come before us. We have all been saved by grace and are working to make this same grace known to others.
When our mission becomes the most important, it makes all of our methods, past successes, and current preferences shrink in comparison to the scope of the mission and the size of our God. I do lack reverence for past methods. I don’t serve them. I serve our Savior and the mission to make him known.