For the last two-ish months, my life has been one change after another. As soon as I think I get things settled, another transition moment jumps me in a dark alley and demands my wallet. Well, maybe not, but it occasionally feels that way. Really, though, I could extend that metaphor for the last two years, not just months. Just to keep score, in the last two years I have:
- Graduated from seminary.
- Spent too much time trying to find a full-time ministry position, preaching my way across Kentucky, Indiana, and Georgia.
- Moved to Kansas to start a new ministry position.
- Resigned from said position and moved back to Kentucky.
- Was called to another church to serve.
- Moved to a decently-close part of Kentucky to serve said church as youth minister.
- Went from youth minister on a staff of two to “guy who does everything, party of one.”
- Transitioned into an interim senior minister position from my youth ministry job (at the same church) while welcoming an interim youth director to fill the spot I was vacating.
Changes. Perhaps too many changes. And yes, they take a toll, but when I look at the big picture, I see I’m exactly where I need to be right now, doing exactly what I need to be doing. This is God’s will for my life.
It often takes a bit of time to gain that sort of perspective. Few people embrace change willy-nilly, so to speak. We all need time to transition into and out of roles, time to process what’s going on, what needs to be done, and our role in doing it. We tend to cleave to what went on before, ever looking backward at what is past instead of looking forward to that which is to come. While we shouldn’t rush changes or enact change simply for the sake of change, we also can’t be afraid to let go, to jump in, and to do what needs to be done.
Today I was reminded of the person I used to be in college (which is longer ago than I would care to admit). I would never go back to being that person, but I still have a twinge of nostalgia for the college life, for the things I experienced in those years. It’s during those moments of reminiscence I hear Jay Gatsby’s voice whisper in my ear: “Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can!”
Well, no. You can’t. And you shouldn’t. The things which are past, those things we’re afraid to change in order to have a better future? We call those “sacred cows.” And sacred cows have a way of becoming golden calves.
If we focus too much on “We’ve always done this,” we make the past an idol. We get locked into routines of worship, routines of life, routines of thought from which we can but won’t break free. Churches stagnate and die. Friend groups wither away. All because we won’t let go of our idol of “This is how it’s always been.” We try to repeat the past and watch as the future disappears. The old saying, “If you always do what you’ve always done, then you’ll always get what you’ve always got” doesn’t necessarily hold true anymore. It seems more accurate these days to say, “If you always do what you’ve always done, then you’ll also lose what you’ve already got.”
To be fair (and somewhat balanced), I would by no means advocate a church in particular give up its history. It can’t fully break with its past, its origins, the lives of so many of its saints. (This is one reason I love the liturgical year.) A church should likewise never abandon the truth of the Bible as expressed throughout the history of the Church. We can’t innovate new readings of the text which deny its historical understanding and which fly in the face of the text itself. We can’t water down the Gospel to suit itching ears. But we can present it in new ways. We can preach, teach, and sing our theology in ways which make it understandable (and perhaps even appealing) to our communities — all in ways which retain its integrity.
(Aside: Please never use the word “relevant” in conversation with me about worship. Worship is always relevant. The Bible is always relevant. Let’s stop pretending we somehow have to change it to make it applicable to our lives. It always has been and always will be.)
Thankfully our God exists outside of time. He doesn’t dwell on the past or worry over the future. He’s already there — in both cases. And He’s here with us, the God who was, who is, and who ever shall be. Let’s move forward together into the future God has in store for us, praising Him for the past and present which we have been given.
Even if we have to change a few things to get there.