I am a pastor of a church that was planted 50 years ago. Many church plants that survive will eventually get to the place where my church is fifty years down the road. It’s a delicate place. It’s a place where a pastor is helping the people begin to look for a fresh work of the Holy Spirit. It’s a place where there are members of the church who were there when it was first founded; they remember the excitement, the newness, and the past glory of that church plant. This letter below is written by a founding member of a church plant from 2013 to their new pastor in 2063:
Dear Pastor, June 18, 2063
I want to beginning by telling you we are so glad to have you and your young family at our church. In a church of older folks, it is good to have some children around again.
It really is a shame what has become of this church. We were planted fifty years ago by a bunch of young enthusiastic families with children who didn’t even have a church building! We met in one of our homes for the first whole year, but we didn’t care. We were all so excited about what God was going to do in our new little church.
As the years went by, we grew, and we had all kinds of activities going on. There were so many families and children…too many to count! Everyone loved having mom’s group and Sunday School, and the children had fun at VBS. I remember we used to have such a great media team–great little funny videos and cool signs. But, as the years wore on we had a few conflicts and some people left. One of our recent pastors upset some of the congregation, and that hurt our attendance. Here we are today, and I just wish we could go back to the good old days.
That’s what I wanted to ask you about, Pastor. Why aren’t we doing community groups anymore? We used to have so much fun going bowling and watching football games together. Your new plan for “fellowship” in the church just won’t work. Community groups are what we have always done–our group has been together for forty-five years! And Pastor, why aren’t we singing Hillsong in church anymore? Those are the songs we grew up singing, and I don’t understand why you aren’t having the church sing those anymore. People won’t sing those old hymns by Charles Wesley or those new ones you are trying. We like the standards: Tomlin, Wickham, Crowder–you know, the ones we sang as young people. And why are you taking down the art gallery we had in the lobby? And what about our church website? Everyone used to use the internet, that’s what we’ve always done for fifty years. Why do you keep insisting we have to move on to new things? They worked in the past; it’s what the members of this church like!
I don’t mean to complain; I just wish the church could be like it used to be. I understand the times have changed. Sometimes I just wish something in the Christian life would remain the same. Constant, you know?
As a new pastor, I hope you won’t take this letter the wrong way; we really are excited to have you. I guess we just like the way we used to do things…you know, back when we started this church–and you’re new, so try to be patient. Maybe if you helped us find a solid foundation, a rock, something that isn’t going to change, then we might be able to follow you in a new direction.
An Eighty-year old Church Member
It’s at about fifty years (sometimes earlier), that the church really begins to discover whether their pastors were building with wood, hay, and stubble, or whether they put in the time to use gold, silver, and precious stones. At fifty years, the founding members all begin to pass away. A church plant has to be planted in a way that will help it last beyond its first generation of members.
Paul makes it clear that those who plant churches and those who water churches are working on the same team. As one who is currently watering, I ask you, brothers, to plant something worth watering. There is no other foundation upon which to build other than Jesus Christ. All of the gimmicks, bells, and hipness will burn up in the fire (1 Cor. 3:13), but what will remain is the true work of the gospel through God’s Word. Make sure that the foundation you lay will stand the test: “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11).
If the church you are planting is based around faddish models of ministry, adherence to a certain type of worship music, hot media, or any other non-essentials, you are making a lot of hard work for the pastor who comes along to water your church in fifty years. When those styles of ministry grow old and outdated, so will your church. It is easy to plant a weed that sprouts up quickly but dies just as fast. Plant an oak, and though the growth be slow and steady, it will last for generations. Found that church on Christ and let God give the growth (1 Cor. 3:7).