It’s a new year and a new decade and it’s hard not to think about new things at a time like this.
My experience with church, since I became part of a Pentecostal – charismatic – radical middle church, has been an almost obsessive devotion to “behold, I’m doing a new thing.” And while the stream I swim in might be a little obsessive about it, a visit to the local Christian bookstore (if you can still find one) will confirm that we’re all at least a little hot for the “new thing.”
I don’t think of myself as someone who is stuck in the past or who thinks that if the KJV was good enough for Jesus and Paul it’s good enough for me. But I am a man of a certain age. I’ve seen things. I’ve not only been around the block but I’ve been out on the bypass and made it all the way around the city a time or two.
The other day I was talking to a pastor who is planting a new church. He was excited to tell me about this new, exciting approach to small groups. He felt really good about it and he thought this new approach could get more people involved and growing as followers of Jesus.
I tried not to say anything. I tried to just be positive and affirming. But eventually I mentioned that we’d done the “new thing” 30 years ago. We called it something different than what it was being called in this new iteration but for me it was a “been there, done that” moment – which tends to make younger people who are excited about the new thing think I’m old, boring, cynical or just too out of touch to understand how amazing this “new” thing is.
A friend of mine tells me that I suffer from disintegrated anticipation.
He warns me that I could become cynical but what is more likely is that I suffer from disintegrated anticipation because I’ve been a pastor for over 3 decades now (that seems a less painful way to say 30 years) and in that time I’ve accumulated a lot in the “been there, done that” pile. These are things, movements, methods and ‘new things’ that have promised to be the thing that finally cracks the code, finally brings revival, finally fills the church, finally brings heaven down, finally renews us for the end times, finally makes sense out of making disciples of Jesus.
In my little slice of time in the pastor world I’ve experienced, read about, tried, attended, and or been caught up in or a part of…
The Restoration Movemented.
Thieved in the Night – Late Great Planet Earthed – I wish we’d all been ready.
KJV to NIV (o the wars we had!)
Bondage Breaking and getting Delivered.
Pews to chairs – (you kids have no idea how we’ve bled for you to have your own chair.)
Contemporary Worship (o the wars we had!)
Marching for Jesus.
Spiritual Gift inventoried…why does no one score high on helps but everyone scores high on prophesy and leadership?
Small groups – kindle groups – G# groups – Cell groups – Life groups (not an exhaustive list just exhausting).
Taking Our Cities for God – Intercessors became a special group in the church.
Wimberized in The Vineyard.
Propheted by KC and the funky bunch.
Renewaled – TACFd – Roaring, falling, shaking – o my!
Watchmened for the Nations.
IHOPed – no pancakes but lots of prophecies, prayer and worship.
Restoration of the Apostles-ed. Betheled.
Enneagramed. and ARC’ed
I’m not saying any of those are bad things (some were) or that nothing good came out of the above (but not much in some cases).
The devotees of each of these things promised with great certainty that THIS new thing will be the LAST new thing and THE thing that sparks the great end-times revival…or at least this thing is the super important thing the church has missed but thank God you’re alive right now so YOU can get it.
On my shelf I have…in no particular order…
Slow Church Messy Church
Spirit led Church
The Equipping Church
The High Impact Church
The Comeback Church
The Living Church
A pastor could pick up the newest read and take his church in another direction so often that it would be hard to keep track for the average church goers if they were messy, spirit led, living, slow or still sticky.
I’ve bought cassette tape sets, CD sets and now MP3 recordings that will tell me all the secrets about this church thing that will make me the greatest pastor, teacher, church planter, evangelist, dream interpreter, ever.
I was with a small group of pastors and our national director who was leading us through material that was helping us develop a new approach to leadership in the church. (I would have called it an old way or the original way but ‘new’ always sells better…except new Coke, that was wretched.) One of the other pastors in our group, quite a bit older than me, was vulnerable, transparent and honest when he said, “I learned leadership from Wimber, this is how I’ve always done it and I’m too old to change now.” I was encouraged and excited by the material we were discussing – hopeful even – but I could still understand how he felt.
I’m being told it’s time to upgrade my smartphone. My answer is always the same. “Do you know how long it’s taken me to figure out how to use THIS phone?” I’m nursing my current laptop as it keeps threatening to enter hospice primarily because I do not want to learn another new computer.
New is starting to wear me out.
But I still love the new things God is teaching me, doing in me and calling me to do. I’m still growing and changing and going on adventures my little 20 something self would have been too afraid to go on.
I’m not stuck but I’m not impressed by new anymore.
I’ve had so much new attached to too many promises with so much energy and excitement that only lasted long enough to be replaced by the next new (which wasn’t very long). As a pastor, I get weekly emails and snail mail that all promises me a new thing that will revolutionize our church, guarantee our growth, increase our offerings, conversions, close the deal with return attenders, and improve my preaching.
When you’ve been at this pastoring gig for 30+ years, you also discover church world is full of phonies, fakes and charlatans. I’ve heard guys with obvious colds preaching about how Jesus has kept them free from sickness for decades. I’ve heard a guy publicly push a narrative that he raised someone from the dead while the man who was supposedly raised and his family members have tried to clarify the story by saying, “no he didn’t.” I’ve seen celebrity pastors make wild claims that make no reasonable sense but still gather crowds based on their claims and promises that were as empty as their claims. I’ve had to come in behind some of these celebrity Christian preachers and clean up the human carnage they have left behind as deafness returned, marriages still fell apart despite that ‘word from the Lord’, prodigals never came home, the cancer wasn’t gone when the doctor re-checked and the prophet ran away with the piano player.
What if our life together as the church is supposed to look more like a family and less like a business venture? What if we’ve been leaning our ladders on the wrong wall? What if instead of siblings, we’ve been producing customers? What if there are no short cuts? What if there are no secrets? What if every really big church got there by chance or it was God who gave the increase and not the method they’re selling you? What if we aren’t supposed to become celebrities? What if this whole thing is really about the same thing it started out as: a long obedience in the same direction?
I’d like to talk with you some more about this but I’ve got a conference I need to get ready for…leave a comment for me about the new things that you remember that were going to change church world for good. Or if you’re selling a new thing, tell us all about it in the comments.