Memories. Everyone has them. In that way, churches are a lot like people. Every church has a collective memory, a recollection, thoughts of times past. Some bad. Most good. All important.
For that reason, that old gospel classic still speaks to our hearts:
Precious mem’ries, how they linger,
How they ever flood my soul,
In the stillness of the midnight,
Precious, sacred scenes unfold.
Even today, the echoes of our churches’ storied pasts still walk the halls. They’re unavoidable. They are not the enemy. We are their legacy. Therefore, we must learn from them. And, we must learn to honor them.
As our churches continue the unavoidable march into the future, it is imperative that we look to the grand example of those saints who poured their lives into the church, those men and women who did their all to honor God. We need to remember the founding members who helped organize the church. We need to recognize those whose lifeblood was spent building and maintaining the church. We ought to look to the witness of those before us who witnessed to anyone who would listen and witnessed God’s hand at work in our communities. We must never forget those that God used to grow the church.
However, if we’re going to be true to their memories, if we’re going to honor their efforts, we must not leave them in the past. We must bring them, their hopes and their dreams, into the future with us. We must not only remember their actions but their attitudes. We must remember why they did what they did.
Our churches were not built by a group of people whose faces now adorn our memories devoid of personality and character. They were not legends of the past but real people trying to please God. They were not building a church. They were building God’s Kingdom. They were not creating monuments to themselves. They were creating a place to worship. They were committed to the glory of God.
Therefore, if we are to honor their memories, we must not look to the works they’ve left behind but to the example they’ve set. We must remember that their legacy is not built of brick and stone but of faith and hope. They served the Lord with gladness not to be remembered in a room or with a plaque but to see God glorified.
You see, if they were with us today, they would not say, “We’ve never done it that way before.” They would not say, “Wait a minute, I painted that room.” What would they say? If I’ve heard the stories right, they’d say, “Okay, God, what do we need to do now? Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Let’s not dishonor the memories of our loved ones and predecessors. Let’s honor them by honoring God’s church. Let’s do what they would do. Let’s do whatever it takes to see the church grow once again. And let’s give God all the glory!“They shall eagerly utter the memory of Your abundant goodness And will shout joyfully of Your righteousness.” (Psalm 145:7)
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About Peter Beck
Peter serves as assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University where he teaches church history and theology. While serving as senior pastor in Louisville, Ky., he completed his PhD in historic theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His dissertation, The Voice of Faith: Jonathan Edwards's Theology of Prayer, is soon to be published. He, his wife Melanie, and their two kids, Alex (12) and Karis (7), live near Charleston, SC. Peter's goal for his teaching and writing ministries is "love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim 1:5).
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