Transforming Church Team Blog
resourcing leaders…reenvisioning the future

What Does the Past have to do with Change? (Part 2 of 2)

John Holm

John Holm

A church that tries to hold on to the past, sometimes even seeking to recreate the glory days will most likely fail.  Even though God’s grace is unchanging, the way we proclaim that grace through word and deed does change.  So, change in the church, or reinvention, is something that churches must do to remain faithful and effective.  But, as pointed out in part one of this blog entry, simply discounting the past entirely and moving into a new future without building upon the past is just as deadly as holding onto the past uncritically.  So, if a church needs to build on the past but not hold too tightly to it, how do you discern what is valuable to build on and what is not?

Jesus did many new things in his daily ministry.  He picked grain and healed on the Sabbath.  He touched unclean men and women.  He talked to a Samaritan woman in the public square.  He went to dinner parties with known sinners.  All of these new ways of doing ministry seemed to be in conflict with the past.  But Jesus knew and taught that these actions were flowing from one of the core values of the past:  Love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19).  Jesus was living out that core value in new ways – yet it was the same core value.  God gave us the Sabbath because God cared for us and wanted us to care for one another by taking one day a week off to rest and spend time worshipping God.  Jesus was living that out when he picked grain which provided food when they were hungry.  He healed on the Sabbath as a way to care for another.  He challenged people to understand that core value of love for neighbor in new ways through the story of the Good Samaritan; new ways to live out the core of the past.

Congregations may need to change the way they serve, worship, and share the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection but when they do change they must do so according to the unique DNA (Code) of the past.  Some congregations have core values related to music and the arts.  Others have core values related to serving the most broken and hurting in their community.  Some congregations have core values centered on children and youth.  Rediscovering and clearly articulating these unique core values will be essential as needed change must occur.

A congregation discovers their core values through stories.  Ask the members to tell the stories of the events and of the people (heroes) that are bigger than life.  Have them tell stories of hardship that turned to faithfulness.  Have them tell stories of heroes of the past who most likely are heroes because they embodied the core values boldly.  I know a church that was searching for their future.  They began to tell the stories of the past.  One of the big stories was about the church sponsoring Vietnamese refugees during the Vietnamese war.  When the members told the stories they got excited and animated.  They told of sacrificing time and money in order to help those who did not have a home.  They told of the successes and the blessings.  Over the years, the church had stopped directly serving people who were without a home.  They had stopped living out their core value of serving in this way.  They decided to reclaim that core value.  Not long after that decision this church was reconnected with refugee ministry.  They now regular help resettle refugees from all over the world.  But living out this core value didn’t stop there.  They began a homeless ministry and partnered with a transitional housing ministry.  They also got connected to Habitat for Humanity.  The wonderful thing about rediscovering this cover value was that they lived it out in new ways and bigger ways!  And it wasn’t just the “old timers” from the past, but young and old, newer members and long-term members and community members all in partnership in these new ministries.  New ministries built on an historic core value!  Preserving this core value of caring for people with nowhere to lay their head has brought this church together in bold ministry and mission for Jesus Christ.

Who are the heroes of your church?  What are the bigger than life events of the past?  In what ways did the church sacrifice in mission and ministry?  Rediscover your core values.  Claim them again and then be creative!

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