I am currently in the middle of a series of posts reflecting on my recent trip to Turkey on a Jet Set Vision Tour with the Upstream Collective. We visited the locations of the seven churches from the Book of Revelation. You can look back at earlier posts:
Remember the good ol' days?
I did not grow up in church, but I have heard the stories: We were blessed. People found our churches in the telephone directory, "visited" one Sunday, and got baptized the next. Our churches grew. We had more missions money than missionaries to send.
The church at Sardis remembered its good 'ol days. In fact, they continued to pride themselves on being faithful servants of God long after they had ceased to be. In Revelation 3:1-6, Jesus condemns the hypocrisy of the Sardis church: though it had the reputation of being alive, it was dead. Sounds familiar.
As we stood among the ruins of the ancient city of Sardis, we thought of all the ways we have come to rest on our laurels. Past successes. Good reputations (earned or otherwise). Former achievements.
I've come to realize that as church leaders, our stories have "shelf lives." As time passes, our experiences lose the relevance that lends credibility. Consider the old-timer who tells of planting a midwestern church in the 1950s. On the one hand, we're thankful for his service. But in the back of our minds, many of us are thinking of a laundry list of reasons his experience isn't relevant to us today. It was easier back then. They didn't face the same sort of diversity and apathy we see today. They had more money back then. Oh, and now we've got postmodernism.
There's a lot of wisdom in the old stories, and we need to honor those who have gone before us, paving the way for our work today. But we also need fresh stories. We need to learn from those who have gone before AND we need to hear what God is doing today.
To be honest, that's a small part of why I'm currently planting Grace Church in Hendersonville, TN. I've been a church planter for some time now, since way before it became the cool thing to do. I've planted churches, but it's been a while. For the last few years, I've traveled across the country (and around the world) to talk about church planting (among other things).
My examples were from a different time (way back in the 1990 and early 2000s). They didn't hold the sort of weight they would if they were current stories. Had I gone from practitioner to theorist? I wanted to be doing and not just telling.
Though it was not the primary reason (God's leadership to reach people with Christ was the primary reason), as I felt God leading me to plant a church again, I welcomed the chance to have new stories of what He is doing now. When you're in the middle of it, all ministry looks different than it does in hindsight. Sardis missed that.
My encouragement for our group of church planters in Turkey, and my encouragement for you, is to find your identity in what God is doing today. Tell of His past faithfulness, lest we forget it, but live in what He's doing in and through the church now.
As we tell the good news of who Christ is and what He does, we proclaim to the world that his mercies are new every morning, and that the best is yet to come for those who follow Him.