As we come to our State of the Church weekend — we face the joy of celebration and the task of evaluation. I want to celebrate what God is doing. Signs of health everywhere. It’s exciting. But along with the celebration must come healthy evaluation. You see, a danger of “church” is that we can easily get stuck. It happens a lot. Even here. Churches usually get stuck because what was working stopped working. And figuring out what to do next is hard. Really hard. I spent some time thinking about that this week and came across a long blog which focused my thinking. It was written by Carey Nieuwhof and helped me do some evaluation.
Where do churches get stuck? In one of three places — in the past, in the future, or in the present. I think I know where we could easily get stuck, but (spoiler alert) I’m not going to tell you, by the way, where that is. You think about it and let me know what you think.
It is easy to get stuck in the past. We’ve been around a long time now, and the past has some great memories. And people. But the past died long ago. What worked back then worked because the conditions were right back then. And those conditions changed a while ago. There’s a huge difference between learning from the past and living in the past. It’s foolish to keep trying to re-create the past. It’s gone. If God wanted us to keep ministering in 1995 or 2016, He would have left us there.
We can also get stuck in the future. Really? Yes. We get stuck in the future when leadership tries to move us forward without any clear, coherent or cogent plan. For example, you promise your kids a trip to Disneyland, but never take them. A vision without a plan isn’t a dream, it’s a nightmare. Sometimes, focusing on the future becomes a way to avoid dealing with the present. Many pastors love to live in the future, because they don’t have to deal with anything today.
We can also get stuck in the present. Just like we can get stuck in the past and in the future, we can also get stuck in the present. How? Churches who get stuck in the present usually have no learnings from the past or vision for the future. One sure sign we’re stuck in the present is that there are no next steps to move us forward. We aren’t trying anything, we’re not experimenting. We’re probably not even diagnosing. We just are.
This weekend is all about how we get past being stuck. We must be committed to learning from the past, imagining a better future, and creating a plan. It’s easier to say than to do, but our future hangs on our ability to do just that. Most churches will tilt toward being stuck in the past or living in the future, but on their own, neither is healthy. Can we glean lessons from the past, envision a better future, and make a plan to get there? I sure hope so.
Otherwise, we’ll just be stuck and won’t be able to get past it.