One month after moving in to North Pointe our creative team sat down to plan the 2006 Singing Christmas Tree. It was August and we were already behind the planning curve. That was when someone suggested the unthinkable.
“What if we don’t do the Tree?”
“What are you thinking?”
“You mean just not do it this year?”
“No, Never again. What if our new beginning is letting go of the past in every way?”
I love the Singing Christmas Tree. The suggestion was anathema. Our decision in 2000 to relocate to the least churched area of Edmonton was a bold move towards the future. Even so, we designed the new facility with the past in mind by creating space for the Singing Christmas Tree – Central’s three decades old iconic ministry piece. That August we talked the idea through at length. The discussion was passionate. But we got the outcome right. North Pointe was Treeless (and some thought clueless) but we had moved on. And the Singing Christmas Tree was rebranded and rebirthed at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium for raving fans and local philanthrophic endeavours.
In place of the Tree new community-based programs like Divorce Care, Grief Share, Single and Parenting, Rainbows, and Christ-Centred Addiction Recovery Education were started up. They were life giving in a whole new way.
What are you clinging to from your past? Is there an idealized part of the glory years that your church is trying to recreate?
We find ourselves in an unprecedented crisis.
Robertson Davies, a Canadian novelist said, “The world is full of people whose notion of a satisfactory future is a return to an idealized past.”
What’s true of people in general is true of Canadian Christians in particular. I know because that’s me. Churches tend to be pulled by people like me who want to return to the past and all that they believe was good. And why wouldn’t we desire good?
Three decades ago I was invited to join the pastoral staff of a church that had been eviscerated by a terrible split two years previous. Although there were no vision banners on the walls of Central Tabernacle the congregation’s view was “our best days are behind us.” If we could just replicate the past we would have hope for the future. So we worked hard at recreating the past – powerful and popular Pentecostal evening services, a strong Sunday School, passing out evangelism tracts, a world missions program and the Singing Christmas Tree.
In 1994 when I became Lead Pastor of Central we doubled down over the next six years on recreating the past – all with little effect. Yes, we stopped the bleeding and grew by 3% year over year but we were far from prevailing.
Nostalgia is what prevails when we take our eyes off the mission and put them on history.
Canadian believers are neutered when we imagine Christian influence to be our inheritance rather than our mission.
We see The Lord’s Prayer in schools, the Lord’s Day in the marketplace, public prayer at civic events, and the display, if not the adherence to the Ten Commandments as a right. They are unquestionably wise practises for our community. But we’re not in Kansas anymore.
We bristle when people call that attitude Christian privilege.
And just maybe it’s for our best. There are grave dangers in trying to return to an idealized past. Our memories purge the pain and retain only the good.
Judgmental types of cultures have shaped Christian communities of faith. A “come as you are” church would not have thrived twenty years ago. Even so we are perched perilously on the cusp of change and not much is required to push us backwards.
We need to learn the language of the Spirit – I’m not talking only about speaking in tongues – but the language God is using to connect with Canadians in 2019. And beyond.
We were a revival movement born on the margins of culture. Women, people of colour, the poor and uneducated had a place at the table and some sat at the head of the table.
We need to lay down our perceived rights and be a voice for what’s right.
The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.
Letting go of the “leeks and garlic” so we can taste the “milk and honey” has a familiar ring to it. And let go we must.
How is the Spirit recreating your perspective? Your values? Your attitudes?
“One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.” Philippians 3:14(ESV)
Open my hands and my eyes, Lord.