Before We Throw Out That Tradition

IMG_2929I’ve never been a real traditional guy as tradition is considered in the church. In fact, I’ve spent the good portion of the last several years trying to enact change. It seemed as though many of the things that defined the church were actually a hindrance to what we were supposed to be accomplishing. Well, I must be getting older. I’m coming to the place where I am a little slower to eliminate older ideas. My young friends may call me a sell-out.

I came across a few Bible passages that have me thinking.

 

Paul said to the church at Thessalonica, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” (II Thessalonians 2:15) and “withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.“ (II Thessalonians 3:6b). The Greek word for “tradition” means instructions in Christianity. It’s the same word Paul uses in I Corinthians 11:2 “I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you.” Some more modern versions replace the word “tradition” with teaching”; still many say “traditions.” For this article, I’m going to use the idea loosely to mean: “the way we’ve been taught to do church.”

Here is the point of this post: There are traditions in the church that should stick around. Simply because something is traditional doesn’t mean we should get rid of it!

Let’s be clear; if it is harmful, get rid of it. If it is damaging, stop it now. If it impedes the fulfillment of the mission, it is your responsibility to purge it.

However…

If a tradition is not harmful, it may be helpful to just hang on to it.

Here is the problem. Some things that, a few years ago, I thought were harmful turned out to be helpful. But they’re gone now. An example: in the 90’s, we minimized discipleship ministry (Sunday School, etc.) and focused more on worship. We’re living through the results of that now when Biblical illiteracy is at an all-time high. Another example may be eliminating evening and midweek services. While times have changed, we now find ourselves struggling to get people to attend services once or twice a month. There was a time in my ministry that I thought eliminating these things would help us. Turns out, we should have held onto the traditions and revitalized them.

But some of us are absolutely certain that we know what is best for the church, both now and in the future. Please allow me to challenge your thinking for a minute.

Dare we be so presumptuous as to assume that we presently have all the knowledge that we will ever need?

We have gotten rid of some things that, at the time, didn’t seem valuable. We now realize that they were. Surely we will keep growing in knowledge and wisdom. It is remotely possible that one day, we will realize that way back in 2016, we didn’t know as much as we thought we did.

We find ourselves in a culture where people are longing for the tried and true. Predictability and stability aren’t as old fashioned as they used to be. Liturgy, ritual and tradition are making a comeback.

A message for emerging leaders: please don’t discard the things your elders worked so hard to achieve. You may not see value in them now, but one day you might. Then, if they are worthless, drop them. And one day, when you are an elder, maybe you will reap what you’ve sown and the kids will not kick your ideas to the curb.

Before we throw out that church tradition, slow down. Give it some time. Consult with an elder. If, after thorough examination and prayer it needs to be eliminated, you can do it then. But once it’s gone, it’s sure difficult to get it back.

A Humbling Stroll Down Memory Lane

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Tonight, we attended a sing-along with a group of people from our tribe, the Church of God. We sang the songs from the old red back hymnal, the stuff of my parents’ generation. I went because I was invited. I much prefer more modern music and more updated forms of worship. But tonight wasn’t about me; it was about my heritage.

On the way to the event, I told my wife what song they would sing first – I nailed it. The leader announced page 393, “When We All Get to Heaven”. This stuff runs deep in my blood! As we sang these songs, both Letha and I laughed a little, thinking about our childhood, and we cried a little, thinking about our loved ones. It was more emotional that I thought it would be. I haven’t heard some of those songs since I was a kid but I knew every word.

As much as I enjoyed this evening, I do not believe that we need to go back to the way things were. In fact, that is impossible. People who try to do that get trapped in the past. But there is great value in having roots. Our heritage is very important; it helps to steer us toward a great future.

I am glad we attended the event tonight. I am not looking back, I am moving forward as fast as I can. But tonight was an important glance in my rear view mirror. I am better because of it.