It’s been two years since I stepped away from full-time church ministry and into my new leadership role with a missions-based non-profit here in Indianapolis. Time almost always yields perspective, and as the months have quietly ticked by, I’ve been able to look back on my dozen-year pastoral journey with a clear sense of joy, pride (the good kind), and appreciation. Those were incredibly fruitful years I wouldn’t trade for anything.
But there’s one giant regret that I just can’t seem to shake. Something I think young pastors and leaders might want to take time to ponder. Let me explain.
Like most young leaders, my sincere zeal to launch the church into the 21st century focused my energies squarely on all the things that were wrong, broken, or ridiculous about the way we did ministry. (And let’s be honest, there are some large targets to aim at).
Empty tradition was my main enemy. And so began the long, arduous task of unraveling all the “religious” irrelevancy that was most certainly reducing christianity’s impact in today’s progressive culture. Everything “Church” was parsed, questioned, and unwound until most conversations took on the forlorn overtones of the opening lines of Ecclesiastes:
“Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!”
(In my opinion, this is a classic sign of over-analysis).
So I cast off, threw out, and abandoned the “absurd ways” of my predecessors. After all, we’d progressed. I knew better. I could see it all so much clearer. Yet after all the unwinding was complete, it started to feel like there wasn’t much of anything left.
Many of you are probably quietly arguing that this kind of critique is a vital part of a healthy rebirthing process. And you (might) be right. I don’t regret challenging the status quo. But if I had it to do all over again…
…I would be less consumed with tearing down rote tradition, and more obsessed with restoring rich meaning.
Focusing on the restoration of meaning will ultimately neutralize many rote traditions, but fixating on the destruction of tradition won’t get you meaning. (It may get you some things you didn’t want). There’s a not-so-subtle difference between meticulously restoring the beauty of an historic house, and zealously disassembling it and tearing it to the ground.
The generation behind me craves meaning. They want substance. Something bigger than themselves. Something rich with foundation and significance. The Church has been around for two-thousand years. Some of the best answers to “institutional irrelevancy” might actually be found by looking backward. (And I’m not talking about back to the 1950s).
Maybe I’m just getting old and losing my edge. Or maybe there’s something worthwhile here to ponder. I’ll let you decide.