Sunday, February 26, 2012

Are we really open to growth?

I've been thinking a bit lately about tradition and growth. It seems to me that there's much mourning in The Salvation Army (and very likely in other churches) about the lack of growth - or worse still, the very real demise of our congregations. There are a variety of reasons attributed to this trend: the secularisation of society; failure to connect with newer generations; losing relevance; lack of dedication to evangelical mission.

I wonder if part of the trouble is that we're stuck in the tension between wanting to grow and simultaneously not wanting to change. We want to show respect to our forbears - many of them are still with us - and have no desire to simply jettison our history. Yet, surely sometime growth requires this of us? Certainly it does of the individual. When I think over the years that I've been a Christian, I can see much growth - and room for plenty more to come, I'm sure. Invariably, alongside that growth has been the need to put previous ways of being and thinking aside. This started with my first decision to become a Christian and has continued ever since.

But is there a point at which we're meant to stop this progress? As individuals or even as the church? What are the things that we draw a line at, refusing to negotiate them as part of our journey of growth? How can we continue to respect the values of our predecessors - even of our own personal history - and move beyond it? In every life, there are non-negotiables. Yet sometimes, even these change. Sometimes they need to change. They are tied to particular circumstance, specific needs in our lives at a certain point in time. When we move beyond that point in time, beyond those needs, it may be time to let those non-negotiables go.

Perhaps real growth only comes by letting things go. The more tightly we hold on to the past, the less we are able to move forward into the future. What are the things that you are holding on to that are perhaps due for reanalysis? Is it time to risk change for the potential opportunities that the future holds? Invariably those that take such risks are labelled as heretics and traitors by those they leave behind. Progress always comes at a cost. However, if we keep everything the way it always has been, we are doomed to watching both our history and our present disintegrate before our very eyes.

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