How Being Stuck In The Past Will Hurt Your Church


I confess that I have a disease that afflicts a large percentage of the human race. The disease is called “the good old days.” You see, looking back is almost always positive and selective—we are all more prone to remember the positives and push down the negatives in our memories.

Studies have shown that when rating television shows and movies of the past and present, the past shows are consistently seen as better. When my two kids were in junior high I complained about the “brainless” thirty-minute sitcoms that they watched. “In my day we had good shows like The Three Stooges!” So one day they watched an episode of that show with me—talk about brainless! I was born in the mid 1950’s, when parents were fearful that their kids would get a virus called polio, when many Americans were contemplating building bomb shelters, and when people lined up at drinking fountains according to skin color. Those were hardly the “good old days.” 

Billy Joel sings, “You know the good old days weren’t always good. And tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.” Solomon wrote this in Ecclesiastes 7:10,“Don’t long for ‘the good old days.’ This is not wise.”

As I travel the country consulting with churches regarding their staffing needs, I have noticed that many churches have also caught “the good old days” disease. “If we could just get a pastor like Brother Tom, I always learned so much from his sermons!” “Our church used to be so much more family-like, it’s not that way anymore.” “People used to bring their Bibles to church—now they just bring their phones!”

Nostalgia is reveling in the past—and it carries a number of dangers for churches. What are some of those dangers?

When we think the past was better we are more likely to just spin our wheels in neutral without forward progress. Remember the Israelites who forgot how bad slavery was in Egypt? When they balked at entering the Promised Land they just went in circles for another 38 years!

When we are sure the past was better than the present we are more likely to resist change that could bring better things. When we glorify the past we tend to believe that the methods and ministries that were used should still be used. We quit learning and close ourselves off to any risk-taking with something new.

Reveling in the past could lead us to the sin of grumbling and complaining. Remember what the Apostle Paul says the two great sins of the Israelite nation were? Idolatry and grumbling. Most of us would not think of grumbling as that serious, but it is an offense to God. 

Living in the past keeps you from looking to God’s future for your church.Tweet: Living in the past keeps you from looking to God’s future for your church. via @VanderbloemenSG

It is hard to look down the road while gazing in the rearview mirror! When I meet with churches I tell them, “I want you to believe that your best days are ahead of you, not behind you!”

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (Philippians 3:13, 14)

What about your church? Do you hear people consistently talking about “the good old days?” Is progress being stifled by reveling in the past? Is there a passionate vision for the future that is energizing the church?

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