How do we respond to change? How do we position ourselves for effective ministry in a future that will be different than our past? The church is a 2000 year old institution. During its 2000 year history, the church has seen its share of change. The church has survived war and drought, famine and disease, political upheaval, social turmoil, technological advancement and dramatic cultural shifts. It has survived heresy, sin, poor management and deeply embedded corruption. The church is an institution that knows how to survive. When Jesus instituted the church he promised that nothing would overcome it (Matt 16:18), and nothing has.
The church might be 2000 years old, but our church is only 20 years old. The future of the institutional church is secure, but the fate of individual churches in our part of the world today is less sure. According to some studies, 3500 people leave the church EVERY SINGLE DAY. While change has been a constant throughout the history of the church, few would argue with the observation that the rate of cultural, social, technological and institutional change is accelerating.
No one needs to be convinced that the world is changing and changing rapidly. As change accelerates, organizations that fail to adapt--churches included--are quickly left behind. The question for our church is not whether we should change; the question is how—and how much—we should change as the world changes around us.
During our Wednesday Bible study of Jeremiah we discovered two options for how the people of God can faithfully react when they find themselves in changing cultural contexts; we can set ourselves apart or we can make ourselves at home. The Recabite community set themselves apart. They maintained their integrity, identity and livelihood by standing firm in their traditions. The Recabite’s very survival was tied up in their willingness to faithfully follow the traditions of their ancestors. Jeremiah holds them up as examples of faithfulness to a Jerusalem population that was too willing to quickly discard or ignore the traditions of the past (Jer 35).
Alternatively, Jeremiah instructs the Israelites in exile to make themselves at home in Babylon (Jer 29:4-13). Faithfulness for the exiles was NOT to maintain their traditions when faced with a new culture; instead, it was to immerse themselves in the unfamiliar culture in which they found themselves. Jeremiah tells them, “If things go well for Babylon, things will go well for you.” Faithfulness in this context was to support and encourage and engage the changing culture, to abandon the familiar in favor of the new.
So which should we choose? Should we set ourselves apart or make ourselves at home?
The answer could be some of both. Maybe we are called to set ourselves apart AND make ourselves at home. As one of our members put it recently, “How much should we compromise our traditions to reach the lost for Christ?” Even the question implies that there are some things we should compromise on and some things we shouldn’t. .As we look out into the future and try to envision the next season of Heritage’s life, “How much should we compromise?” is the $64,000 question. And it brings up a whole slew of other question about what it means to be a church in Cherokee County in the 21st century.
As we move into 2015 we’ll start to answer some of those questions together by revisiting the Strategic Plan you adopted in 2012. My prayer is that the first part of 2015 will be a great time of discussion and discernment as we determine how best to implement the 2012 plan. Much of the heavy lifting has already been done. The 2012 plan is invested with your energy and vision guided by the Lordship of Christ and encouraged by the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Heritage has something unique to offer this community and continues to demonstrate a fantastic ability to find its way faithfully forward into the future God intends for us. I believe that deep in my bones. The more I get settled in, the more excited I get about what God will choose to do in us and through us for our neighborhood in the years to come
So if you’ve got that 2012 Strategic Plan lying around somewhere, dust it off and take a look at it again. In January we’ll start talking about how we can be faithful to that vision as we make an intentional effort to dream together with God for the twenty-first year in a row.
That’s something I can get excited about. I hope you can, too. See you Sunday.