It’s easy to miss the ways our traditions send contradictory messages to people on the outside looking in.
I was eating lunch at a barbecue joint—if you’ve been to the South you know the kind. Brown wood floors, wood bar, wood stools. TVs playing sports. A motorcycle parked in the foyer. Servers in classic rock t-shirts.
He was eating at the table beside me. I daresay you’ll be able to picture him with just a simple description:
He was a friar.
The floor-length brown habit, the ivory rope belt. He stood out like… well, a friar in a bar.
He talked to a suited colleague about the building projects he oversees for his order. He gestured a lot when he spoke, so I really couldn’t miss the Apple Watch. I involuntarily cocked my head, a little confused.
I have no problem with the man having an Apple Watch. Still… Friars are known for embracing a life of simplicity and poverty.
As best I can find through Internet research, that’s the whole point of the brown robe.
He was striking to me because he personified a contradiction. A mixed message. The Apple Watch didn’t make him look more modern. It made his antiquated dress look all the more antiquated.
I’m not picking on this friar. He just presented an image that stuck with me. I started thinking that a lot of things we do in our churches—holding traditions in one hand and new methods in the other—send similarly perplexing messages to people on the outside looking in.
We add a shiny accessory but fail to part with the old robe.
Who Are We? Where Are We Going? How Are We Going to Get There?
Tony Morgan weaves these questions into many things he writes, including this recent one called Church Revitalization: How and Where to Start.
“Stuck churches jump to how to do the ministry, discipleship, weekend services, etc., instead of focusing on why we do those things. If you’ve done the hard work of answering the first two questions, you have the answer to how.It might sound obvious, but if you want to see change, how you do church in the future has to be different than what you’re doing today.That’s one of the most common things we see—stuck churches continue to do the same thing expecting different results.”
Who are we?
Where are we going?
How are we going to get there?
Those questions, answered honestly, call out our traditions and methods and ask them testify to their value.
- Do we have traditions that merely serve us, and not our calling?
- Do we have traditions that stand in opposition to our vision?
- Do we have traditions that handicap our ability to move forward?
It’s far easier to put on an Apple Watch than it is to throw out the robe, but we’re deceiving ourselves if we think the former action carries any weight without the latter. As Jesus taught us, you don’t create new wine without also picking up new wineskins.It’s far easier to put on an Apple Watch than it is to throw out the robe, but we’re deceiving ourselves if we think the former action carries any weight without the latter. Click To Tweet
I’m by no means suggesting it’s simple. Letting go of traditions that don’t serve our vision will invariably rub many people the wrong way. Another difficult pill to swallow that Tony frequently gives: Vision both attracts and repels.
The first step in getting unstuck is to get a different perspective, and let it focus your vision. Then you have to do the difficult work of parting with what wasn’t working.