Pastor’s Perspective – May 2013
It has been said that a good definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” The knowledge of this maxim, however, can never prepare us for the difficulties inherent in change. The past few months have introduced several real changes, both to our Ministry Teams structure and, in recent weeks, our worship service. At the core of each change is an attempt to reach a new generation of people for Jesus Christ.
Change is never an easy thing, especially when everything around us seems to be transforming at the speed of light. The first thing that we must get our minds around is the fact that the Church has done this before, even if we haven’t done it this way before. Few of the systems, liturgies, structures, and translations that we find sacred existed previous to our generation(s). The problem with change is that we rarely are able to remember what changes we experienced yesterday, or to wax poetic, the changes our revered forefathers experienced are forgotten by our children.
I have a 19th century Methodist hymnal in my personal library. The hymnal was given to me when my Grandfather died. It includes hundreds of hymns approved for use in worship by the Methodist denomination in 1849. Interestingly it contains not a single note of music. Each hymn is written in the form of poetry. Today many Churches project their songs onto a screen so that people can sign along with the music. Far from being a violation of a long standing Christian tradition this is actually a return to the way they used to do things. The distinction is between the old way of doing it and the old, old way of doing things. The more you explore the past, the more you realize that, while the pace of change may have accelerated, change itself has always been with us.
When Henry Hayes and Rev. Edward Platt founded the First Baptist Church of Toledo in July of 1853 this Methodist Hymnal was less than five years old and the cutting edge way to lead congregational singing in worship. Since that time First Baptist Church of Greater Toledo has maintained a one hundred and sixty year tradition of evangelism, growth and transformational change. We have survived the Civil War, World Wars
One and Two, the Great Depression, and a variety of sketchy Presidents (you pick your favorite). It is my firm belief that with God’s guidance we can safely survive FACEBOOK.
Whenever we consider change we must first consider what we are willing to change. It is my belief that the purpose of the Church is non-negotiable. We will continue to follow the same set of instructions as the early Church found in Great Commission (Matthew 28: 18-20). Our job is to go into the world and make disciples of all peoples. How we do this is not set in stone, but that we do it is.
During times of great change and distress we are often tempted to transform the wrong things. Some congregations stop reaching out to others, or at least stop paying attention to their needs, so that they can maintain the way that things have ‘always’ been done. This is a recipe for disaster as well as a rejection of God’s instructions to the Church. It is, and always has been, our responsibility to follow God’s instructions and to find the most effective way to carry out the dual missions of evangelism and discipleship.
The primary biblical metaphor for evangelism can be instructive in our pursuit of God’s will. That metaphor is “catching fish.” The first thing that we notice about “catching fish” is that it is intended to hit the audience where they live. The early disciples were fishermen. They understood what Jesus meant. If they were cowboys, Jesus probably would have spoken about herding cattle. His goal was to communicate the Kingdom of God in a way that was understandable and would generate a response.
Nevertheless, those who have been on a boat know that a quality fisherman (or woman) knows that you must be prepared to use different bait to catch different fish. You might try a half a dozen lures and types of bait before you begin to bring the fish in. Success as a fisherman is not determine by hours in the boat, but is always based on whether you are catching fish. Dedicated fishermen are some of the most innovative people on the planet. They do not stop trying new things until they have exhausted all of their resources for the day. Fishermen know that fishing is the dedicated pursuit of catching fish. You move from place to place, you try to fish at different times, you experiment with bait and hooks, but you know why you are sitting in the boat. You are there to catch fish.
What a fisherman cannot do is insist on fishing with OUR type of bait, or at a convenient time, or where YOU want to go. That is, of course, unless the fisherman is willing to go home empty handed. If we are not catching fish it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are not biting. It may well mean that what we are offering is no longer attractive to them. While one can continue to cast, return and repeat, it at some point behooves the fisherman to try something else until we discover what works. This might be why the Apostles reacted so negatively to Jesus’ gentle prodding to try the other side of the boat. Did Jesus think that they hadn’t thought of that already? Of course they had tried this already. They had tried everything…over and over again.
I can hear the voice of the Lord calling out to us today. Try the other side. Try something new. Do not give up until you exhaust every possible angle. Why should we work so hard? We try and try again because the Lord is asking us to do it and it is worthwhile to follow the word of God. We give it one more cast because this might be the one that bears fruit. We share and invite one more person because this one might say yes. More importantly we try it again because we know that the goal of bringing people into the Kingdom is not our goal, but God’s.
God desires that we combine our creativity and work with his commands and inspiration in order that the work and will of God might be accomplished. I have recently referred to this synergy of the divine and the human as Divine Innovation.
Divine Innovation is what happens when Divine Inspiration is combined with Human Perspiration. This means that in order to grow the Kingdom of God (which includes growing the local Church) we must not only hear the commands of God, but also do whatever is necessary in order to fulfill those commands. Knowing the will of God is to be inspired by the word of God. Doing the will of God demands that we work harder and more diligently that those who are following the commands of the world.
Of course, this is just another new way of communicating an old idea. I am proud to stand in the long tradition of hard work, inspiration and innovation that is the First Baptist Church of Greater Toledo. The work ahead of us will not be easy, but then again, it never has been. Walk with us in the coming months as we aspire to move beyond Inspiration and Perspiration to once discover Divine Innovation.
May God bless our Divinely Innovative future,