All churches have a history, but FBC Tishomingo has a peculiar one. In July 1993 a team from our church went to serve in Florida to help rebuild houses after Hurricane Andrew. North of Tampa they encountered rain and one of the vans flipped over on a slick road. Of the seven people on the van, David Craig, 40, and Jane Neese, 80, were thrown from the van and killed at the scene. A third woman became paralyzed from the wreck, and the others faced severe injuries.
It was a terrible time in the life of the church, one that I learned about after I came to pastor. The incident stayed with the church for a long time, and was eventually followed by lawsuits, grieving, and all things that come with a tragedy like that. It cast a shadow over future mission trips by the church, and even still does to this day, decades later.
I thought of this event when I read an article titled Why The President Needs a Council of Historians. The authors, both professors at Harvard, put forward several ideas of why the US President needs a council of historical advisers. Turns out that most politicians are ignorant of much of US history, especially at a policy level. Historians could serve to caution, remind, and illustrate the trajectory of policy and more.
In much the same way, I think the pastor needs a council of historian. All pastors need to study church history, but more to the point, they need to study their church’s own history. You are undoubtedly aware that your church’s history did not begin with you. Regardless of the health of your church when you arrive, you have a lot to gain by studying and understanding it’s history.
- You can learn from the tragedies.
This episode in my church’s history affected everyone involved. It was a tragedy and affected the decisions that were made, the policy put forward, and the mission trips they went on. Even as we discussed a recent trip to Colorado, I had to keep this episode in mind, though it happened long before me. For those in the church then, that is what comes to mind when mission trips come up. They want to make sure every precaution is taken and every policy followed. Policy, procedures, and people are all still affected by things that happened in your church’s history. Learning about what has shaped your congregation over the past 20, 50, or even 100 years will provide insight into why they respond the way do or protect the things they protect. History helps you to know when to step lightly, when to grieve, and even when to step boldly.
- You can learn from the triumphs.
Although we have difficulties in our past, we have our fair share of triumphs too. They planted churches to reach out to neighboring communities, had years of outreach to the local junior college and took in refugees in the 70’s. All these things are worth celebrating and can be used to remind a church of the good have done. Celebrating past successes is a great way to honor the faithful saints in the church, and you might even find a success that can be revived again.
- You can learn from the mundane.
In between the tragedies and the triumphs in your church are a lot of average, ordinary days. There are many Sundays where songs were sung, prayers were led, and the gospel was preached. There is much to learn from these “ordinary” days. A church that has faithfully made disciples, supported missions, and worshiped together over the years is a testament to the faithfulness of God and to God’s people. Learn from their faithfulness.
Where can a pastor find this council of church historians? Don’t neglect digging in the church records or racing the church history. Contact the historical commission for your denomination. Look in old newspapers or with your state historical society. There is probably more out there than you think if you look in the right places.
But above all, listen. Listen to those who have been faithful. Don’t ignore those who have served faithfully in the church for 40 or 50 years. They have seen it all come down the pike and can probably teach you a thing or two.
But you must listen.
Luke Holmes is the Pastor of First Baptist Church of Tishomingo. You can reach out to Luke by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.