One of the big differences between living here compared to central Alabama is my lack of geographical knowledge. Back there I know every way to get anywhere. I know every back way, hi way, by-way, and thru-way and if I ever get lost it just takes a few minutes and I can say “oh wait I think I preached here once. ” When we first were dating Janica complained that I never took her anywhere the same way twice, I thought that was good thing.
It’s good to have goals, to have a destination in mind. It’s even better to know how to get there. Unfortunately, when we haven’t been there in a while we don’t realize the way isn’t the same as it used to be.
On at least a weekly basis I hear someone say “oh, it used to be like this…” with a sense of nostalgia. Less often, but still more often than I would like, I hear “we did this in the past and had such great success” or statements that come from similar thinking.
First, having a vision of the future often means considering the triumphs of the past. We can only know what we have experienced so I have no problem with people thinking about past highs when contemplating the future. At least as long as we are aware that it won’t ever look exactly like that again.
The second statement, however, is problematic. Heraclitus said, “You cannot step into the same river twice, for other waters are continually flowing on.” Crossing the river might seem like the same problem it was before, but it isn’t. The river moves, the waters change, the river bed changes. This idea is doubly true when thinking about moving forward as a church. The church itself is not the same thing. It has different resources, a different composition, and different needs than it did in the past. The community is different, it’s even different than it was three years ago. Society at large is different. You cannot cross that river again. You must consider the river as it stands.
A related quote comes to mind. Attributed to Albert Einstein but of no clear origin it basically goes like this: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
If you look out and do not see the results you want then change what you are doing. If you seek change, if you seek growth, then be the change. Grow.
Christianity grew from a minor fringe of Judaism to the state religion of the Roman Empire in less than three hundred years. It did so in part because it was radical. It preached the equality and value of women and the poor. It preached equal access to God for all. It preached moral guidance where the traditional religions had none and comfort for dealing in a world full of change. It was radical, and is at its best when it embraces that same radical spirit of the Apostles and Early Church.
What worked in the past, in that context, will not necessarily work today. This website actually brought a visitor to our church this week! That is great but it’s not enough. We have to learn how to engage in our community. We have to make hard changes to our lives to do that.
Otherwise we cannot get there from here.