November 4, 2010

Healthy Things Grow...

In my last post I focused on those of us who have been around our own churches for a long time, and the memories we have of those who have played a role in our lives through the church. I told you how I have often missed the things newer members see - things like bad lighting and peeling paint - because I see beyond the walls of the church. I see the people who have played a role in my walk with Christ.

But I don't want to leave you with the wrong impression. I believe that understanding where a church has been is important. It shows you where God has been at work within that body and that knowledge serves as inspiration, much as the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11. But it's not everything.

Just as those mentioned in Hebrews did not see all things promised, those who came before us in our churches only saw the promises and welcomed them from a distance. They set the cornerstone, but they didn't see where God would take it from there.
You may not have read my early posts. There is one where I talked about returning to church after my extended break from organized religion. The break began around 9th grade and didn't end until my early 30s, when I felt God calling me back. I spent several years struggling with him over that, but finally one Sunday, I found myself standing in the balcony of the church where I had spent much of my childhood.

I looked at the tacky blue carpet that people complained about from the day that it was installed, and I knew that I had come home. But it still took another year before I was willing to do anything beyond sneaking into the balcony for worship and then making a run for the parking garage.

Many of the people I remembered were gone, but the pastor who had baptized me when I was 7 was still there. The music minister was still there. Very little had changed. I found that comforting. To me, it symbolized the unchanging nature of God. But it wasn't healthy for a church to undergo so little change over so many years.

Healthy things grow; growing things change.

I had been back about 6 months, still sneaking in and out of the balcony, when the service ended one Sunday with the pastor making an announcement. After 35 years, he was retiring. God had brought me back for the last few months that the church would be the same as I remembered it.

It would take a year to find our new pastor. (It's a Baptist thing - we pick our own pastors.) During that year, I took the step beyond worship into a Sunday school class and I became involved in the life of the church. More than that, I began to grow deeper in my faith for the first time as an adult.

A new pastor came, bringing a word we didn't know much about: change. He was with us for just under 5 years, but he did a fair amount of heavy lifting during that time, laying the groundwork for what was to come. The biggest change was adding a contemporary service, back when that was still a new concept. He encouraged us to become less inwardly-focused, and more focused on taking Jesus beyond the walls of the church. We began to see more and more members called to the mission field. And the church that had become a little stale, began to grow again. It began to feel fresh, even with the dated blue carpet.

Healthy things grow; growing things change.

It came as a jolt when the new pastor was called to another church. (That Baptist thing again. It works out okay when you're the church doing the calling, but it doesn't feel nearly as good to be on the other end of the call.) It took 2 years and 3 interim pastors before we found our current pastor. It was a long 2 years. And God rewarded us for that long wait with a 29-year-old. We consoled ourselves by saying that he was "almost 30." But even as young as he was, God had prepared him, just as he had prepared us.

That was a little over 10 years ago and naturally, there have been a lot more changes in those 10 years. There have been changes that have reinforced things God was already doing. There have been changes in our attitudes. There have been changes in people's lives. There have been changes that have continued to encourage us to grow closer to Christ, and to share Jesus with others through missions, at home and beyond. There have been changes that have allowed us to reach out to those who are struggling financially, which has become an even greater need over the last couple of years. There have been changes to accommodate growing ministries to children and youth. There have been changes to our facilities - the much-maligned blue carpet is no longer around - so there are fewer distractions for those who are visiting. There are changes to the membership, bringing new people who share our lives and who encourage us. Undoubtedly some will fill tomorrow's memories.

There have been changes that have been downright inconvenient.

But that's okay. Much like the changes God performs in our lives, those changes are necessary. So while we remember those who have come before us, and those with whom we have shared our lives, we know that we can't spend too much time looking back. We must live in the present, even as we look forward to the future and the changes it will bring.

Healthy things grow; growing things change.

Until next time,

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.~ Hebrews 11:13


  1. Inspirational, Margaret. So many churches (not just the Baptist church!) struggle with change - not realizing that change can be a positive thing. So many people don't believe that there is room for them to grow, just in the simple act of reaching out, participating, etc. That "simple act" is often very difficult for many - they feel they don't have anything to offer, that they aren't knowledgeable enough. Regardless, there is always something that can be done, just waiting for the right person to take it up. Way to go - on not giving up, and on coming back to your faith.

  2. I still think of our current senior pastor as "the new guy" even though he's been at our church for over ten years.

    You are so right though, change and growth are good things, even if they freak a lot of church members out.

  3. Very cool..
    I think it's great that you are trying to change your life. Faithful people tend to have a positive outlook on life. Good luck


  4. What a great post. I'm including it on my favorites list right now.

  5. Thanks for this. I stopped going to church 4 years ago. Still a believer, I guess I just needed to think on my own for a bit. The main thing I realized is that I don't agree with everything my religion says, but that's perfectly ok.

    I also realized I could never stop believing in God.

  6. there is so much wisdom in growing and allowing
    change but not allowing the things that should
    never change . . .to change.

    thank you!

  7. Enjoyed your post. I think it is incredible to wait on the Lord and discover what change he makes in us and in the church.

    What a mighty God we serve!