I recently attended the fiftieth anniversary celebration of Grace Bible Chapel in Parkhill, ON. I served as pastor there for eight wonderful years. I was grateful that they invited me back and allowed me to be part of the celebration.
Needless to say there were a lot of stories inserted into the conversations. On the Saturday evening there was a concert with the Rising Above Band. Most of the band were people who grew up in the church. In fact, they were there at the very beginning of the church’s history. It was fun to listen to their stories that dated back to the days when the church met in a house basement.
Reflecting on the past
Every church has a history filled with stories. In any church I think that it would be fun for the members to have an annual reflection day when the people come together just to share their stories. I have a feeling that such an evening would fly by as people laughed together, maybe cried a little and reflected on God’s faithfulness through the years.
There would be a danger though in holding such an event. It is so easy to think of the past as a golden age when everything was wonderful. It is easy to remember the good times and not the struggles.
The past is to be remembered and even celebrated. It is not, however, to be lived in. When the past shapes the present, it is time to put the past where it belongs – in the past.
We live in a very different culture than people did when those past memories were formed. When I was a child social media didn’t exist, cell phones were science fiction and knowledge came from a twenty volume encyclopedia. Churches that are still rooted in that past need to face reality. Our world has radically changed and the church needs to keep up.
The past needs to be honoured but we can’t allow it to shape the present.
Looking to the future
For most of my life I have been reading books and attending seminars that have told me that churches need to look to the future. Some state that churches need to develop a set of goals that will define the church’s mission and set direction for the future. Others talk about the importance of a mission or vision statement that again is supposed to define the future. Still others suggest that churches should begin right now to act as if they were already the future church of their dreams.
I firmly believe that churches need to have a clear picture of what they hope the future will look like. Vision and goals can help paint that picture. I am not suggesting that it is a waste of time to plan for the future. There is, however, a danger in focusing too much on the future just as there was a danger in focusing on the past.
All the planning in the world will not do any good if a church is not taking care of people in the present.
Serving in the present
The past is past and there is nothing that anyone can do to change even one minute of it. The future is future and there is nothing that anyone can do to guarantee even one second of it. The present is now. It is where we live. It is the only part of our existence that we can change.
God has called every church to make a difference. He has called your church to impact the people whom he has entrusted to you today. He has called you to serve your community because it is the only community that you have right now.
Serving God, as an individual or as a church, is a job for the present. God wants us to impact those people who are part of our lives right now.
Past, Future, Present
We need to celebrate God’s faithfulness in the past.
We need to look ahead in faith to what God will do in the future.
But we can only serve him in the present.
Each day God gives us twenty-four hours in which to serve. We need to make the most of those hours because tomorrow they will be gone, part of that past that we either celebrate or lament. It is better to celebrate service done than to lament opportunities lost.
“This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.”