One of the premises of the Edison Churches project is that innovation is a necessary dimension in church renewal and evangelistic impact. And yet, even in those churches profiled in this book, innovation was not always easily embraced.
The very essence of the Christian faith is to cherish the long, slow story of God. Looking back, remembering, re-examining, establishing the norms and the beliefs—these are all functions of faithful stewardship of the tradition. Orthodoxy is not quickly altered, nor should it be. But the embrace of orthodoxy is sometimes used as a basis for resistance to implementing contemporary means and methods for passing the faith along to a new generation, a new culture, or a changing world.
Memory is essential to the church of Jesus Christ. The story of redemption, the repeated enactment of the sacraments, the singing of hymns written to reinforce the central truths of the faith, require that the people of the church be called to remembrance. It is part and parcel of the mission of the church. But there is a danger that we can become entrenched in nostalgia rather than shaped by redemptive memory. Nostalgia is the desire to re-experience a moment or a practice, or to return to a definable time in the church’s history and make the practices associated with that time normative for all time moving forward.
The “unchanging” God has a habit of making things new.
Nostalgia can become a barrier to leaning into the future. A particular song, sung in a way that is reminiscent of a transforming experience for a person, is not wrong in and of itself. But if nostalgia is allowed to determine orthopraxy—or the standard for practice—for all and forever, it can blind us to the persistent, inexorable march of the story of God through the centuries.
The “unchanging” God has a habit of making things new. God has worked to bring about the redemption of creation through various people, in a variety of settings, having patience to work through people of disparate backgrounds and competing agendas. Think Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Think Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. Think John the Baptist, James, John, and the other apostles. Think Pilate and Jesus! Think Peter, Cornelius, Saul/Paul, and Barnabas. The memory of those people, and many others like them, the characters so graphically displayed in the scriptures—their work, their teachings, their sacrifices, their struggles, and their unique place and time in the long, slow story of God—reveals a remarkable journey. We must look back and remember. We must tell the story, and tell it well. But we must not allow ourselves to become paralyzed by nostalgia, tied to a particular time in our own journey or in the history of our congregation or the way in which we relate to the world around us. Time moves on. The church must find new means and methods. The cultures in which the church is located are shifting, changing, morphing. The methods we use to tell the story must continually adapt while the story we tell is made real, relevant, and compelling. It must be a story of transformation and redemption. It must be a story of hope. It demands that we reflect the holy love of God to the broken, the struggling, the confused, and the searching.
I have some wonderful memories of how the church has functioned in my own life. But I find myself longing to see the church become as meaningful and relevant to my grandchildren as it was to me—long before social media, smartphones, and iPads. I hunger to find ways to engage others in my own generation in ways that shake us out of the longing for the way it used to be, in order to catch us up to where God is working now in generations of younger people, in rapidly changing cultures, and in a global village where our way is a dim memory, at best. The young are not checking out of the faith so much as they are checking out of the kind of church that is afraid to trust the God who has been telling the story of redemption since creation.
Memory? Oh, yes! It is necessary! It is the long, slow story of redemption that must be enacted, retold, and celebrated. But let’s not let memory become strangled by nostalgia that limits what God desires to do to continue the relentless march toward the restoration of all things.
Edison Churches tells the story of ten churches (of different sizes and denominations) who are experimenting and innovating, failing and succeeding, and working out new paradigms of being the faithful new church our world needs. They are motivational proof that the Spirit is alive and well and that the church is being born again right in our midst.