Glenn Gibson, my coach in the early days of my current ministry once said, that time orientation has everything to do with church health. Churches tend to focus on either the past, the present or the future. Churches focused on the past are seeking to recover the glory days. Churches focused on the present are often “so busy mopping the floor, they don’t have time to turn off the tap”. Churches focused on the future are convinced that God has placed their best days ahead of them. Since the major currency in any church is hope (“for in this hope we were saved.” Romans 8:20) a healthy future orientation is a more positive and healthy stance. As leaders it is our responsibility to preserve and grow our congregation’s hope in God. No matter what direction your congregation is facing… past, present or future… we can help them find hope.
Hope in my past…
If your church is looking back to the glory days there are lots of things we can do to preserve and grow hope for our future. To do this you will have to explore and honour the past. First ask yourselves what was so glorious about the glory days? What were we doing back then? What were we focused on? What did we believe in? What were we passionate about? What were we willing to sacrifice and fight for? The past, if the days truly were glorious is an amazing resource for generating hope in a congregation’s future. Once you have a picture of the past, begin to ask how those passions, attitudes, self-sacrifice, and unity of purpose would look like in your church if they were evident today. What are you willing to do, change, or challenge to make all of this your current reality?
We stand on the shoulders of giants. Those that have gone before us are the inspiration (not the mold) for our present and future selves. Those that have gone before us are now “the great cloud of witnesses” that cheer us on to victory. We have no need to fight the past. The past can be a boundless source of encouragement and strength and most importantly hope. Hope, however, cannot live in the past, hope belongs in the future.
Hope for today…
If your church is overly focused on the present there are important choices we can make to preserve and grow future hope. It can seem counter-intuitive, even irresponsible when there are so many fires burning to take time to get some perspective. Getting stuck in the moment can rob us of our energy and eventually our hope. We can begin to believe that this is just the way this church always was, always is, and always will be. However, that kind of thinking does not mesh well with God’s plan for his church. So how do you get perspective? Well begin by asking each other questions like, “What is the purpose of all of this activity?” “What is all of this leading toward?” “What is God’s plan for this church in the future?” “Who are we becoming?” The present is the only time that exists, therefore, it is only in the present that we can make our hope for the future take shape. Churches that have a present, pointing toward God’s future for them, are healthy and robust. They may not be any less busy than a present focused church, but their hope rests in what lies ahead.
Back to the future…
If your church is focused on the future there are important things you can do to ensure you continue to preserve and grow hope.
1. Be transparent. Avoid projecting that your present is better than it actually is. The mistakes you are making and problems that you currently have can prompt recurring discussions about God’s future for you.
2. Keep it simple. Keep your church structures as simple and pliable as possible. This helps you stay on target: focused on God’s future.
3. Take the time to celebrate. Make sure that you celebrate and mark the important moments that come your way as you follow God. This can be honouring the past. Celebrating what’s going on right now. Or pre-celebrating the future that God has in store.
Jared Siebert is the Director of Growth Ministries for The Free Methodist Church in Canada. For more information on church planting and current projects visit the http://www.lifecycleproject.org/.