By Billy Walker
I have nothing but great memories of my grandfather who started our church 65 years ago. When he passed away, the church asked my dad to become the pastor. He said he’d do it until they found somebody else.
Thirty-one years later, the church invited me to be the pastor. I live in the shadow of my father and grandfather’s heritage. That has never been more evident than since my dad passed away this past December.
At times, living in this shadow has been a heavy responsibility. For the most part, however, it’s been a joy and a blessing.
Heritage has its place, but if we merely look to the past and don’t plan and prepare for what God has for the future, we do those who’ve come before us a great disservice. More importantly, we stand to miss out on what could be while we look at what has been.
Some Things Must Change
We’re the ones moving forward, seeking to make a difference in the next generation and beyond. And this pursuit will involve new ideas, new ways of doing things, and new methods of outreach.
While the message of the gospel remains the same, the approaches we use today are a lot different than they were at the time of the early church of Acts 2.
But the same God who gave miraculous results to those early believers still desires for His Church to be on the move and to see similar results. And friends, God’s promise still stands. Nothing will be able to stop His Church (Matthew 16:18).
Pastors, there’s nothing wrong with remembering the past, but we must not endeavor to re-live it. What happened during the first six-plus decades at my church was excellent, but it happened while the church was moving forward back then.
To re-live means to move back. And the Church—my church and your church—doesn’t have time to do that. Here are three things leaders can do to make sure their churches continue to move forward into the future.
1. Raise the Bar of Expectation.
There’s always a step, always a “next.” We should be looking for what’s next on the horizon—personally, professionally, and pastorally.
I know I’ve been guilty of wanting to be the likable pastor. I sometimes work too hard at pleasing people rather than helping them understand the responsibility and privilege that comes with being a Christ follower.
It’s not always easy and it takes sacrifice. After all, Jesus said we should “take up our cross” and follow Him.
Is it possible that we sometimes lower the bar of expectation so much it turns a new generation off to the prospect of following Jesus?
Anything worthwhile is demanding at times, and we have possibly become so passive in an attempt to not turn people off that we have actually turned people off in the process.
Raise the bar of expectation. People may surprise you. You might even surprise yourself.
2. Raise the Bar of Personal Discipleship.
This may seem contradictory to what I just said, but follow it through to the end.
When following the example of Jesus, we can see He accepted people right where they were. In fact, He went out of his way to mention He’d not come to condemn.
He took people where they were, but He never wanted them to stay there. There was always a next step.
Peter went from being a fisherman safe in the boat to walking on water. His mother-in-law went from sick in her bed to serving Jesus and the disciples.
A woman caught in adultery was lifted from her remorse and told to get on with life and stop living like that. A young girl was raised from the dead and told to eat.
Jesus knew people had an enormous capacity for growth in the future, especially those who would trust Him.
3. Raise the Level of Outward Focus.
When we raise the bar of expectation and step up the personal discipleship, our perspective will almost naturally shift from inward to outward.
When we’re looking outside the walls of our church, we have our head raised and gain a vision for the lost. That keeps us moving forward in the right direction.
It doesn’t mean we don’t take care of the needs of the people inside those four walls; that’s a part of our responsibility too. It just means we’re helping our people keep an outward gaze towards what’s ahead and who’s in need.
The church that sees the future will seize the future.
Billy is a 3rd generation pastor of Calvary Church in Southgate, Michigan. He is the vice president of the Billy Walker Evangelistic Association, and is the president of the Pastor’s Conference for the Baptist State Convention of Michigan.