When you think about things that can be detrimental to progress what comes to mind? A fear of the unknown; close-mindedness and a refusal to change; an unhealthy obsession with tradition?
Dr. Stephen Davey, pastor of Colonial Baptist Church in Cary, NC, once told an interesting story about his early days in ministry when he learned how fiercely backwards some churches can be. He wrote, “I first started preaching in a little chapel in the hills of Tennessee to about fifteen people. I will never forget one older man in that church who had been there longer than I had been alive. He taught the adult class and he basically, ran everything. Over the choir loft, there was a banner. The banner was decrepit, having become frayed, yellowed, and crinkled. It looked like it had been up there for a long time. So, I came up with a clever idea to give this church some momentum. We would change the banner; the logo and put up a fresh one. I contacted an artist and we began working on the new banner. I took the old banner down before church one Sunday morning, and was getting ready to put up the new, beautiful banner. I was putting it up, when in walked this mossy-backed deacon. The man walked about halfway in and stopped. I turned around to look at him and his face was red as a beet. He looked at me and said, “Young man, that’s been up there for twenty-two years.” He stormed out of that church and slammed the door behind him. Change was not a part of that church’s vocabulary, but I learned a valuable lesson, namely, that if you worship the past, you forfeit the future.”
Jesus once tried to teach a similar lesson to a group of Pharisee’s who were in love with their man-made traditions. He said, “No one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins” (Mark 2:22). Jesus’ point was that the Gospel message he brought could not be mixed with the dry, old religious traditions of the Jews. The message of the cross can never be changed (the new wine), but the method and means by which we deliver the Gospel (the old wineskins) must change to keep up with the times.
The saddest tragedy is when churches become so tied to the traditions of the past they are unwilling to change in order to move forward. The past can be a rudder that guides you or an anchor that hinders you. It’s my prayer that we never lose sight of the fact that we day we refuse to change because “things have always been done this way” is the day we die. -DM