7 Reasons to Stop Staring In Your Church’s Rear-View Mirror

IMG_1051What do all these quotes have in common?

  • “People have stopped singing in church. We need to use hymnbooks again.”
  • “No one wants solid bible teaching anymore.”
  • “People used to have respect for God’s house. Now they show up late with a coffee in their hand, like they just rolled out of bed.”
  • “The church started collapsing when we stopped holding Sunday evening evangelistic services.”
  • “Pastors in this day and age aren’t preachers, they’re entertainers.”

All those quotes have two things in common. Three, actually.

First, they were all said or written by fellow ministers recently.

Second, they’re all backwards-looking.

Third, none of them are true!


The False Idol of “The Way It Used To Be”

Sure, the church of today has problems. But that’s nothing new. The church has always had problems. Half the books in the New Testament were written to address problems in the first century church – a church we’re guilty of over-idealizing to the point of idolatry, sometimes.

It’s a myth that the church was ever an ideal place of pure worship and fellowship. Not in the first century. Not when we were kids.

It’s also a myth that the way to fix the problems in today’s church – both real and imagined – is to go back to the way we used to do things.

Of course we need to constantly re-establish our faith in Jesus, our teaching of the bible and our obedience to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.

But none of those things are old or backwards-looking. They are the most forward-looking, paradigm-shifting, inertia-busting principles the world has ever known.

Every car needs a rear-view mirror. So does every church. But you can’t move forward by staring into it.

The past is gone. The future is coming – fast.


When We Keep Looking Back at the “Good Old Days”…

1. We Ignore What’s Great About Today

We live in the most exciting, promising, possibility-filled era of world- and church history. 

From new technologies that have removed barriers to communicating the Gospel, to a renewed world-wide hunger for things of a spiritual nature, there are more possibilities to reach more people with the life-changing Gospel of Jesus right now than there has ever been.

For instance, Twitter just came out with a new app called Periscope (on the heels of a similar app called Meerkat). With this free app, it is now possible for any church with wi-fi, or within mobile phone service area, to live-stream their services (or anything else) for free.

If Twitter has it today, similar apps will be on Facebook and other social media sites within a year, making paying for live-stream a thing of the past.

But too many churches are clinging to the idea that the only people they can reach are those who live within driving distance of the church building.

Yes, that matters. Gathering in the same time and place with flesh-and-blood people is essential for the true church experience. Technology will never be church. But the coming wave of technology will be able to extend the reach of our churches in unimaginable ways. If we’re willing to look ahead instead of behind.


2. We Miss the Great Things That Are Coming

If today’s possibilities for spreading the Gospel are unprecedented, tomorrow’s promise is likely to be even greater.

We’re all looking for God to do the next great thing. A revival of his spirit. But what if he does it and we miss it because we didn’t see it coming? Because we spent more time complaining about today and wishing for the past than preparing for the future?

If we’re always looking back to what God did, we might miss the next thing God wants to do. Or, if it happens and it doesn’t look like what he did before (cuz that’s how God works) we might even find ourselves fighting it.


TGM box sale 250c3. Our Response Time Stays too Slow

Why is so much of the church always surprised by societal shifts and trends?

Because it’s hard to see what’s coming when you’re staring in the rear-view mirror.

Knowing what’s coming doesn’t mean embracing everything about what’s coming. But if we can see it coming instead of being surprised when it arrives, we can be more prepared to respond biblically.

By the time the church sees a new trend, that trend is usually over.

People need help with today’s problems right now. Not 20 years from now when we finally get around to writing curriculum for it.


4. We’re Asking for Something That Can Never Happen

Second only to the fact that the church of the past was never the ideal place we have in our heads, this may be the biggest reason I refuse to complain about “the church these days”.

You can never go back! Yes, we all travel through time. But that trip is in one direction and at one speed. Forward. A day at a time.

When we long for the supposed good old days, we’re asking for something that can never happen.


5. We Stop Learning

I’ve actually heard stubborn pastors say they refuse to go to church conferences or read church leadership books and blogs because there’s nothing new to learn.

What arrogance!

There’s always something new to learn – new to me, at least.


6. We Stifle Creativity and Innovation

Truth never changes. Methods must.

If we’re always looking back to what used to be, there’s no way we’ll be ready, not just to see the next big thing, but to hear God’s voice when he wants us to be the ones taking the lead instead of following.

Jesus changed everything. The common people saw it. The religious leaders, with their eyes locked onto the rear-view mirror, missed it.

Some things haven’t changed much in 2,000 years. But that one should.


7. We Turn the Past Into a False God

There are some church leaders who are so intent on doing the newest, coolest thing that the latest methods and styles have become a false god.

But the answer to that isn’t to overreach and turn the past into an equally false god.

We need to keep our roots firmly planted in the soil of a first-century rabbi who changed everything. Hold fast to the God who never changes, but who brings radical transformation to everything he touches.

There’s no change in the rear-view mirror.

We need to be willing to say, in the words of the old song, “break me, melt me, mold me, use me.”

In short, “change me.”


So what do you think? What other problems do you see with the church’s obsession with the rear-view mirror?

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(Rear View Mirror photo from Nicole Dreher • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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14 thoughts on “7 Reasons to Stop Staring In Your Church’s Rear-View Mirror”

  1. Great blog Karl as always!
    New Technologies? – we mustn’t forget that at one time that the printed word was a “New Technology” (in the 15th Century to be precise – (Johannes Gutenberg is generally accredited with it’s invention around 1440). The first Bible in common English by Tyndale less than 100 years later (c.1526) put Scriptures for the first time in the hands of common people – things we take for granted now.
    Many look back to the past with rose-coloured spectacles, but it is true to say that what people see as a modern risky new way of doing things will almost inevitably sooner or later (and often quite quickly) be replaced by something newer – and many will wonder what all the fuss was about.
    But our God is the same yesterday, today and forever!!!

  2. Lee Deaderick

    Perhaps I have a different view of the church in the past, at least here in America. What I see is a collective Christian Church that was out in front of the society on an almost constant basis. Now it seems to me that the Christian Church here in America wants to follow behind the trends of society. What we need to do is move forward and get out in front, that is where we belong as the bride of Christ. Of course we should use modern technology and any other means we have to spread the word, few debate the changes of technology. The buildings and people will look different but God does not change he is the same now as he was in past and will be in the future.

    Lee Deaderick

    1. No Lee, I quite agree. The church and Christians have over the centuries been the innovators in all sorts of fields – medicine, education, social care and …. Science (to name just a few)! I agree that we would do well to move forward and start leading once again!

  3. Roger Shelton

    While I agree on most of this I would like to point out that one of the major problems with Christianity today is division.So called Christians have gotten so caught up in themselves or their praticular group or church that they will exclude other christians who don’t see things exactly as they do.This was never meant to be.Christian unity must be a priority if we sre to see the church restiref to it’s true purpose, ehich is to reach the
    Lost.Matthew 28:15 thru the end of the chapter

  4. Staring in the rear view mirror is still alive and well. The view of the rear view mirror becomes synonimous with God’s word. Example: “preach the word, in season and out of season” has come to mean lecture the word by one man for the whole “teaching” part of believers gathering. Every book on “preaching” assumes this routine. The Bible never specifies strict lecture or just one man for the whole time or only hired experts or that it be every week. This is a deep sacred cow that forces the concept of “teaching” into a very narrow box that excluseds 99% of God’s people and divorces teaching from teaching by example. It also completely cancels out God’s specific instructions for the “habit of meeting” that believers are “not to forsake” which is “spuring one another on to love and good works” and “encouraging one another”. This is instruction is the culmination of 3 elements of “the new and living way” layed out in Hebrews 10:19-26. This lecture the word track is 100% rear view mirror and 0% scripture. There are many very clear instructions to look forward to God’s design for his people when they gather. They all flow from our identity, as “members of the body of Christ”. Anyone insterested in testing this rear view tradition with me so we can look forward?

  5. Our Church is about to celebrate the antiquated ritual of “Homecoming.” While this has largely turned into a “remembering the good ole days” session for those who still practice it. It’s intent was to look forward to our final Homecoming and to look back with that perspective. I think that’s what the writer of Hebrews does in chapters 11&12. Look back at what God has done to accomplish his plan of redemption through the past generations and then run your race, not theirs. Looking in the rear view mirror with the proper perspective empowers our present to impact the future. It has been said that Paul had only 2 days on his calendar, Today and That Day (Homecoming).

    1. You’re right about that, Burt. That’s why I specified that the problem is “staring” in the rear-view. The occasional glance, however, is important.

  6. The Church that I grew up in, which tends to be a pretty progressive church in terms of always re-evaluating what it is doing, has a tradition, which I think is just a beautiful tradition.

    Every Sunday before thanks giving we did a service where, after a very short song portion with communion and our standard weekly offering, we had an “open mic” time where everyone was given an opportunity to speak if they wanted:

    People would share what they were thankful for
    people would tell stories of victory
    one year a couple who was on the brink of divorce shared a testimony of how they were working through things
    leaders would share how God led us through “change” and “growth”

    It was just a time, as was stated in the “homecoming” post, where the Church took some liberty in honoring the past, centering everyone for the day at hand, and challenging everyone towards the days ahead.

  7. Yer going to hire me as an associate preaching pastor! Why Karl, that is great news….when do I need to be there…LOL

    Good to hear you are ok, I don’t know bout anyone else, but I was worried. We are so used to seeing you on here every few days that when you are gone, you are sorely missed.

    Now, about that job…

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