Church The Way It Used To Be

At the end of last week, Julie and I took our daughter back to college in Nashville, TN. Because of dicy weather and rock slides, we took the “southern” route to get there: down to Atlanta, up to Chattanooga, and over to Nashville. So we were in four states: both Carolinas, Georgia, and Tennessee.

Well, in one of those states on the trip, I saw a most interesting billboard advertising a church. The tag line was: Church The Way It Used To Be.

Well, I wonder exactly what that means? The way it really used to be, like in Corinth? Here’s how Paul told them to conduct church in I Corinthians 14:26-27, 29-30:

. . . When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two — or at most three — should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret . . . Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop . . .

Could that be it? Well, knowing a little bit about the denomination of the church-on-the-billboard, I don’t think they would have been too keen on the speaking in tongues part.

So if “how it used to be” doesn’t go back that far, does it go to the middle ages? When the only church was the Roman Catholic Church? Does that congregation pledge its allegiance to the pope, hear a Mass in Latin, and pay indulgences for the souls of the departed?

Again, knowing the denomination in question, no.

I assume “how it used to be” goes back to an era in which the pastor and most of the parishioners felt comfortable. Depending on the age of the leader and the people, that time could have been the segregation-era of the 50s and early 60s. Or the time of social upheaval known as the late 60s. Or the me-generation of the 70s.

Because whatever feels comfortable and secure — in terms of music style, apparel choices, and even bible translation — is “how it used to be.”

But when you design your ministry with an eye towards “how it used to be,” you end up attracting people just like you.

The problem? The world is not “how it used to be.” The world is how it is. And as Methodists are fond of saying, “the world is our parish.”

So we believe effective ministry is anything but comfortable and secure. It is wild, unpredictable, and adventurous. We won’t reach people with nostalgia but with courage. And we hope to reach people who aren’t “just like us” but folks who embody the full, vibrant spectrum of God’s creation.

Because maybe, just maybe, that’s church how it’s going to be.