3 Reasons Why Every Pastor Should Study (and tell) Their Church’s History

 

UP Church Before FirePresbyterian Church-2Fire Picture Fire Department Calendar

Last year I told the history of Westminster Church as we celebrated 50 years in our current location.  The church where my long term members grew up burned to the ground in 1963 just as we were planning to move locations. We planned a great Sunday to tell the story of the church.  We also kicked off a capital campaign for some much needed improvements around the church.  It was a great and exciting Sunday the likes of which my church has not had in a long time.

The best part for me was that I was able to dive into the history of the church.  In the process of my research I found the combination to a safe in the church basement that no one had opened.  I also found records that had been sent to the Presbyterian Historical Society and forgotten about. This was history that was almost lost and that even my most senior members knew little to nothing about.

The work on that history was very rewarding for me.  In fact, I wish I had studies my church history earlier in my ministry at Westminster.  Why?  Here are 3 big reasons for studying your church history.

1. The Church’s history helps reveal why the church is where it is.Steeple Going On

Think of the Church history as a book.  If you read the previous chapters it can give context and motive for what is happening in the current chapter.  You can see the obvious decisions related to the location, the name of the church, the ministries, and the finances.  But more than that, you get a glimpse of the spiritual DNA of the congregation. We have always been a caring church that was primarily middle class and hard working.  We like to do things ourselves and have always had some financial challenges, step up at certain times. It was interesting to me to see how much the personalities and values of the people that have more recently come to this church fit neatly into the mold of its history.  They don’t have important last names, but they still fit.  Do we attract people that fit us, or is that marinated into new people.  I don’t know?  But what I have really learned is that the future of an established church is often through their past

2. The Church’s history helps reveal the mission and purpose that God has for this church.

Every church was started and was developed for a purpose or a mission.  I don’t mean the general purpose of the church.  I mean that a church has a distinct and specific purpose for that congregation in that location.  In my experience, this mission or purpose does not change much over the years.  What changes is how much the church is in touch with its purpose.  Churches drift and come back to their reason for being.  In my own church’s history, I found that this church has always had a priority for education and missions.  We had an elaborate Sabbath school as well as a missionary school.  We are working to find these centers again.

3. It can help move the church forward by looking back.DSC_0591

In many churches the road to the future is through the past.  They need to find their purpose again.  They need to rediscover their traditions as a strength moving forward.  They need a bigger sense that they are part of something bigger than themselves. Further, I think that churches don’t get stuck in the past generally but instead tend to get stuck at a particular point in the past.  By looking at the full history of the church, the pastor can help people realize that “the way we have always done things” is not the way we have always done things.  A grand telling of the history can be like WD-40 and free up a stuck church.

I would suggest this historical research as an important early step for any pastor in a new place.  If you haven’t told the story of the church then do it.  You won’t regret it.

Put on the New You in 2015

I went to the YMCA yesterday to work out and was reminded that it was the New Year. January is always crazy at the YMCA. All these people who decide for their New Year’s Resolution they are going to finally work out or lose that weight. I can watch their efforts unfold as the YMCA thins out through January and February. By March, I see the regulars there again but none of those new members. I understand these people. I am also trying to go to the YMCA more often to begin the year. I have some things I would like to do differently this year.

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Why is it so hard to see lasting change in our lives? In our work places? In our churches? In our communities? I wonder if part of the challenge is that we struggle to balance being ok with ourselves and also wanting to change. We can hate ourselves so much that we don’t think we can change. We can love ourselves so much that we don’t think we need to change. We need to find balance.

This is not pop-psychology. I actually think this is routed in a spiritual issue. Do we really believe that God loves us just the way we are and that we cannot do anything to make God love us any less or any more? But that is exactly how God loves us. At the same time, God loves you enough to not let you stay where you are. This tension is all over scripture, but look at these verses for Colossians 3.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5 ESV)

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Colossians 3:12-13 ESV)

Understand the amazing assumption of this text. We are already God’s chosen ones. We are Holy and Beloved. At the same time, there are things in us that is earthly and need to be put to death. That is a very strong image that Paul uses. Take some things in your life out in the back yard and end them.

There are also things that we need to add to our lives. Paul’s metaphor for these things is that of clothing. It is as if God’s holiness and love is a coat that is given to you but you have to put it on.

This is what makes the Christian faith so special. It is a journey of becoming what you already are. It is being loved as you are but also being loved into the person you could be. So, as you approach your New Year’s Resolutions, try to be ok with who you are now. God is. At the same time, try to live into the person that God sees you as. Maybe that will give you just enough drive to make some lasting changes while also giving yourself slack when you fall backwards.

May you put on the new you with God’s help in 2015!

A PRAYER FOR THE NEW YEAR

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God for whom a year is but a moment, I thank You for this new year.  I thank You that I get this gift of life for another year.  For another chance to serve You.  The year past was filled with ups and downs, highs and lows, smiles and frowns.  I thank You for being with us.  The New Year is filled with giant possibilities to be excited about and scared of.  I thank You that You already know what is coming.

I pray for a sense of newness in the New Year.  Let it be a fresh start for me.  Help me to do things I have left undone, to reconcile old relationships, and to make great new friendships.  I also pray for a sense of oldness in the New Year.   Help me to connect with an ancient faith, to be guided by Your Word, and to be a little more old-fashioned in a world that is far too fast paced.

I pray for big things in the New Year.  Please do impossible, giant, and world changing things.  Shake up social issues, overturn financial crises, and rock lives that seemed un-rockable.  I also pray for little things in the New Year.  Do all kinds of ordinary, everyday, and simple things in our live.  Give me eyes to see Your daily grace for me.

Help me to know You better and follow You more closely in 2015.  May You- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- receive all the glory in all my life and world.  Amen.