In an earlier blog in this series, we discussed how pastor and people could get off to a difficult start when their goals for the relationship differ. Remember, he wants to build a great church and they just want a great pastor? Well, one of the reasons for that disconnect is the simple fact that, Pastor, you’ve stepped into the middle of a story.
Have you ever tuned into a movie after an hour has already elapsed? Ever tried reading a book by starting in chapter six? Do you know what it feels like to walk up to a group of friends that are fully engrossed in a story one of them has been telling for the last ten minutes?
Confusing, isn’t it?
You really don’t know what’s going on or what has already occurred. How can you possibly guess what might or should happen next? Thanks to modern DVR technology, some people won’t even watch an episode of a popular television show today until they can go back three seasons and start at the beginning. It’s the back story we need to understand the story ahead.
So how could we think we can lead a church forward without catching up on a few episodes that have shaped the current plot? Things didn’t start when our current pastor walked in the door and pretending that they did isn’t fooling anyone.
Now, if you’re a church planter, the founding pastor of your congregation, or that rare breed that ends up pastoring the church you grew up in, then you know much if not all the road that’s been previously traversed. You’ve been there and done that, and you should have a handle on how yesterday might be impacting today. In fact, you could skip to the next chapter, but I think we’ll still cover some ground in this one that you could find helpful.
For the rest of us, there’s a history lesson ahead.
Frankly, one of the surprises I get at many of these group gatherings comes when I ask each group about the age of their church. They know, but I am amazed at how often the pastor doesn’t. Now, pastors are typically ready with the answers to most of my questions, but on this one they quickly glance at the older fella on their left to find out. That’s a smart thing to do when you don’t know. I’ve had a few pastors venture a guess only to miss the correct response by more than a decade. That’s awkward.
The night my wife and I were elected to serve as lead pastors at Maranatha Worship Center in Wichita, the deacons sent us home with two books. The first was a small, but beautifully bound copy of the church’s constitution and bylaws. No staples or plastic spiral combs for these folks. When a congregation pays to publish the bylaws with such quality you can quickly imagine some the reasons why this document has become so important over the years.
The second book was larger—a hardback history of the nearly eight decades this congregation had lived together. Black and white photos and the detailed descriptions provided by the church’s official historian proved that every moment of their journey mattered, even now. The book had been assembled for their 75th anniversary celebration a few years earlier. Though I knew that such effort to tell a church’s story usually means that yesterday looks more appealing than today or tomorrow; still, I was pleased to have access to such a valuable publication.
But I have to be honest. I didn’t read it as attentively as I should. The weeks prior to moving my family to our new home and new city were filled with plans. I was busy crafting vision statements and listing ministry priorities. I was writing a core discipleship class and thinking about the process we would use for equipping new believers. There were books to read, but they were the practical strategies the most successful pastors had poured into notebooks and video discussions. If podcasts weren’t still eight years from invention, I would have listened to them too.
What had happened at this church didn’t seem nearly as important to me as what was about to occur, at least that’s what I must have been thinking. So when I arrived at my new office and unpacked my library, I placed that history book on my coffee table, which by the way is the right place for a coffee table book.
They say that those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it. I’m not sure that’s true in every situation. What I do believe is that if you don’t learn your church’s history you will run smack into it. And it’ll likely hit you hard. It’s tragic to learn things the hard way when an easier path is sitting on your coffee table.
Here’s what you can learn…yours isn’t our first vision.