Why tradition is good:
- It honors God for what He has done. Tradition, by definition, is tied to the past. Ideally, though, it focuses on God and what He has done, not on what we used to do in the church. Healthy tradition is concerned about glorifying God only.
- It celebrates the past while pressing toward the future. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating yesterday as long as that rejoicing encourages us to move into the future. My first church had an annual homecoming service that retold God’s work to encourage us to capture God’s vision for tomorrow—and that’s a good kind of tradition.
- It grounds next generations in the work of God. Tradition is good when it helps next generations appreciate what God has done through His people in the past. For example, the Hebrews marked places where God worked so their children and grandchildren could know His care and guidance (e.g., Joshua 4).
- It offers wisdom when making change. Sometimes, the traditions of a church cause leaders to carefully and prayerfully consider options before making a change. That’s not a bad thing.
- It evokes gratitude and unity. Because it celebrates God’s work in the past as a means of faith for the future, our response ought to be thanksgiving as the family of God.
Why traditionalism is not good:
- It emphasizes what we (or others) have done more than what God has done. Traditionalism fights to save traditions, but the traditions are what we’ve done . . . what our forefathers did . . . what our denomination has “always” done. It assumes that our preferences are God’s commands.
- It elevates the past over the future. Traditionalism is protective and reactive. It guards yesterday’s turf at the expense of making a difference today and tomorrow. It fears the future more than it influences it.
- It hinders reaching the next generations. Traditionalism assumes that almost anything new is a threat to the gospel, even if the gospel itself is never compromised. It requires young generations to become us if they want to follow God.
- It blocks making necessary change. Traditionalism fights change, often without honest consideration of the options. It doesn’t inform change like tradition does; it obstructs it.
- It leads to division. Traditionalism is elevating tradition to the level of commandment as if it equals the gospel. The emotion behind such a position usually creates conflict and disunity.
Stephen Witmer writes about pastoring in smaller towns.
The upper limit of your joy in ministry will never be the size of the place in which you minister, but the size of your heart for God. God spreads a banquet of delight before you in your small place, always more than enough, and he invites you to feast. The sweet triumphs of ministry — a gospel conversation, a new step of obedience to Jesus, an experience of Christian community — are precious wherever they occur. The angels in heaven celebrate equally over the conversion of city and country souls.
Your town may be small, but there will always be some who have not yet heard or embraced the gospel, and God himself has sent you to speak to them. Your congregation may be tiny, but you will never exhaust the possibilities of knowing them deeply and loving them well. God will provide special joys in your small place. There will be the uniquely soul-enlarging beauties of the countryside and the pleasures of life in a community where you are known. He will also strengthen you in the challenges that are unique to working in small places. Remember, you’re not there by accident. He has placed you there for his glory and your joy.
Read the whole post at Desiring God.
As a local church leadership in a country town we’re exploring again how we express the need to support the growth of healthy churches in other places.
I believe doing so is an integral marker of a healthy church.
From Thabiti Anyabwile.
Every Neighborhood, Every Neighbor
I believe it’s important that every local church, in some way, focuses on church planting. As local churches, we don’t want to be concerned with the gospel only in our context. We actually want to see the gospel advance.
A New Testament pattern for the advance of the gospel is the planting of churches. We want to see every neighborhood and every neighbor brought into contact with the living Word of God. For that to happen, we have to have outposts in every neighborhood, in reachable contact of every neighbor. The New Testament word for those outposts is the local church.
An application-intensive approach to seeking out and developing qualified church leaders. Thoughtful analysis of key passages in Acts and 1 Timothy are balanced with practical action points in a contemporary context.
Every church, if it exists in the same spirit and shares the same DNA as the early church, should have a burning concern to see itself multiply, extend, and spread to the ends of the earth until everybody hears and the Lord comes.
Thom Rainer lists six reasons why dying churches continue on a terminal trajectory.
- They refuse to admit they are sick, very sick. I have worked with churches whose attendance has declined by over 80 percent. They have no gospel witness in the community. They have not seen a person come to Christ in two decades. But they say they are fine. They say nothing is wrong.
- They are still waiting on the “magic bullet” pastor. They reason, if only we could find the right pastor, we would be fine. But they bring in pastor after pastor. Each leaves after a short-term stint, frustrated that the congregation was so entrenched in its ways. So the church starts the search again for the magic bullet pastor.
- They fail to accept responsibility. I recently met with the remaining members of a dying church. Their plight was the community’s fault. Those people should be coming to their church. It was the previous five pastors’ fault. Or it was the fault of culture. If everything returned to the Bible belt mentality of decades earlier, we would be fine.
- They are not willing to change . . . at all. A friend asked me to meet with the remaining members of a dying church. These members were giddy with excitement. They viewed me as the great salvific hope for their congregation. But my blunt assessment was not pleasing to them, especially when I talked about change. Finally, one member asked if they would have to look at the words of a hymn on a screen instead of a hymnal if they made changes. I stood in stunned silence, and soon walked away from the church that would close its doors six months later.
- Their “solutions” are all inwardly focused. They don’t want to talk about reaching the ethnically changing community. They want to know how they can make church more comfortable and palatable for the remnant of members.
- They desire to return to 1985. Or 1972. Or 1965. Or 1959. Those were the good old days. If we could just do church like we did then, everything would be fine.
Read the whole post here.
David Jones, pastor of Ann Street Presbyterian, is interviewed at Geneva Push on the subject of working alongside a church that is seeking to refocus its mission and ministry.
…the first thing I did was listen, getting to know and understand the church, its history and people. There’s often more Gospel vitality than first appears so I wanted to hear about what God had done, what He was doing, to honour and celebrate those things and then to build on those strengths. As an example, for many churches the congregational singing isn’t always that inspiring. But at Ann St it was fantastic, and something to be really thankful for. We have a heritage-listed building in the centre of the city, a space that we can open up to others, invite them in and connect with them. You don’t want to critique too harshly what’s gone before, and you don’t want to commit chronological snobbery.
You can’t change everything at once, so you prioritise and put your energies in the right places. And what you find as you gather people to pray, and as you preach and put God’s vision before people is that unhelpful things will fall away and become less important, and the Gospel will start to shape how people see what they do.
Read the whole post here.
Tim Dyer led a couple of helpful seminars on engaging with Australian culture as local churches.
There were two questions/discernments that Tim observed churches need to be clear about before they call a pastor.
These positions should be clear before a pastor comes, rather than a pastor being sought to inform the church what their positions should be.
They are: ‘Who is God calling us to reach with the Gospel?’ and ‘What kind of a church is God asking us to become as His people in this locality?’
Ed Stetzer expands on questions for churches that need revitalisation.
This one stood out to me:
“Is revitalization (or should it be) an ongoing process for all churches, even those that are growing?”
Yes. Revitalization addresses a lack of vitality, so something needs to happen to recapture that momentum. A growing church can be vital and not need revitalization currently, but churches always need a sense of revisioning to remain vital.
Most churches begin to plateau and decline at some point in their life cycle. This happens in part because they don’t sit down and listen anew to God. What is God calling us to do now? Where is God calling us to go now? Who is God calling us to reach now?
Any church that shifts into neutral will eventually slow to a stop.
Regular revisioning and evaluation is a helpful practice in that process. I encourage churches to have an annual time of gathering, of vision, of conversation about what the Lord is saying to your church in order to address the areas where you are weak.
Read the whole post here.