Five Ways to Honor the Past While Not Losing the Future

Sam Rainer

June 7, 2020

I once caught a deacon throwing choir robes out of the second story window into a giant fire on the ground below.

“What’s going on?”

“Fire hazard.”

By the looks and smell of the robes, I agreed and went about my business.

There were probably one hundred burning robes in the fire—enough for every person in the church to take home three or four. I wondered if the choir was ever that large, or if the church ever had a choir. No one knew. The remnant of my first church numbered six on my first Sunday. The history of the church was buried in the graveyard on the east side of our property.  

Part of what saddened me in my first church was the lost history. The church was founded in 1856, and few documents existed describing the past. Community folklore gave some insight into the church’s history, but most was long forgotten.

We do not know our history like we once did—biblical history, family history, and our nation’s history. Why should we care? History gives meaning to traditions. History gives purpose to church practices. History gives insight into culture. History contains all the chapters leading up to the current narrative in the church. You cannot create an enduring story without history. Church leaders can—and should—honor the past. We can do so without losing the future.

1. Have a genuine love for the history of your church. I pastored a church with a historical marker and a two-hundred-page book dedicated to its history. A key part of loving the congregation was knowing the history. I read the book several times and studied the archives of the church. It was a way to demonstrate love. I made a lot of leadership mistakes there, but at least the church knew I had a genuine love of their past. The only way forward was by knowing the past.

2. Celebrate the parts of the past that support the future vision. You become what you celebrate, and there are plenty of things to celebrate in the past that will push you into the future. My church has a history of planting other churches. Celebrating this culture was a good way to prepare us for the next phase of launching neighborhood sites.

3. Tell the story of past change efforts with a positive perspective. Denigrating the past will taint the future. Having a negative perspective of past change efforts will not help you craft a vision. Utilize positive past change efforts and tell that story.

4. Turn the legacy into a guide, not a hurdle. Legacy can be either negative or positive. Not everything in the past is worth celebrating. But even the negative parts of a church’s history can become a guide, not a hurdle. You will not know how to make corrective action unless you acknowledge past mistakes. And you can’t acknowledge past mistakes unless you know the history of the church.

5. Ask elderly heroes to show support publicly. Do the work of encouraging those who made history happen. Champion their past causes and ask them to show public support for the future vision.

You can honor the past while not losing the future. In fact, the honor you show the past may become the way in which the future opens.  

6 comments on “Five Ways to Honor the Past While Not Losing the Future”

  1. Susan McClash says:

    We learn from history whether to continue with something or put it behind us but not to erase it. Educational points to be used in all types of history. Thanks Pastor Sam.

  2. Holly & Ian Karakas says:

    Thank you so much Pastor Sam. Honoring the history and teaching the history to the future generation is so important. My husband and I both believe in this tradition and talk to our 4 kids about this. We talk to them about the history of our country and all the traditions how this made our country what it is today. We talk about the hard ships our country has endured, but also how our country always stood strong to over come each hard ship. We talk about all the traditions of both sides of our families. Sadly, it seems like today honoring our history and traditions isn’t important today to many others and we believe it’s our job to not let this fade away for the future generations. Thank you Pastor Sam for all you do for our church. We are very grateful.

    1. Sam Rainer says:

      Thank you, Holly and Ian!

  3. My. Polen Guillott Jr. says:

    Is it absolutely necessary to delete our scripturally inspired traditional Worship Songs from our Worship Services?
    Are Concert style “praise leaders” sufficient for worship?Congregational participation is noticeably down.
    Mr. Polen Guillott Jr.

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