A friend in ministry was struggling. She is the lead pastor of a large church. She knew some things had to change for the church to thrive, grow, and fulfill its purpose, "to make new disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world." She was encountering resistance to any change, not only from the congregation but also from a staff member. It felt, for all the world, that she was in a battle for the future of that church. In one moment of brilliance she identified the precise nature of her conflict with that long time staff member. "I am afraid that you are so resistant to change that you are unable to honor the future, while you are afraid that I want so much to change as to dishonor the past." Well said!
If a local church is to have a future it needs to honor past times when that church was closest to Christ. One church in San Antonio, during WW 2 gave sanctuary to Japanese families who would have otherwise been sent to interment camps. It was in their DNA to be a place of refuge for the marginalized. The pastor called forth the strength of that DNA to advocate for a twenty first century ministry with the homeless, the new marginalized population group. "Remember, back in the day that those frightened people showed up on the church door step? With one voice you said 'everyone is a child of God and must be accepted just as they are!' Now frightened people are at your door step again, seeking sanctuary again. It is in your DNA to say yes to ministry with the homeless!"
30 years ago another church painted homes for the poor and built a worship center in a community that was riddled with poverty. Two years ago, when a forest fire destroyed homes in a nearby town that same church tapped into its own history. The call went out, supplies were gathered and more than 50 people showed up to rebuild from that disaster. "It is in our DNA," explained the project leader "this church builds things. That is what we have always done."
If leaders of all churches will simply honor the BEST parts of their history, the history where they were the hands and feet of Jesus, then they will experience renewal and rebirth. Beware of clinging to the past through buildings, memorials, music, and liturgy. Instead, embrace your own local churchs' DNA. We must embrace the unique ways that our churches have found to honor Jesus, while at the same time, we fight the temptation to honor ourselves.