The value of stopping to think

The value of stopping to think

 by Nicholas Kersten

Only by acceptance of the past, can you alter it. –T.S. Eliot


The Historical Society’s vision involves the key acts of remembering, informing, and envisioning. The purpose of these acts is to lend a sense of perspective to the events that have shaped us into who we are.

To oversimplify this somewhat, the reason why the Society does what it does is so that Seventh Day Baptists are equipped to think well in the present and to apply that informed thought to future plans. But all that work of remembering, informing, and envisioning has little power if we don’t stop occasionally and carefully consider what we are already doing.

Throughout the history of the General Conference, there have been a series of initiatives which were meant to facilitate careful thought about our current situation and activity. Some of these initiatives, like the Chicago Council (called in 1890), were meant to deliberate on the future of the entire General Conference and the shared ministries of the churches. Other initiatives, like M.O.R.E. 2000 (Mission Of Revival and Evangelism), have been geared toward individual churches.

The goals of these initiatives, though, are astonishingly similar. In the midst of changing cultural circumstances, they offer opportunities to punctuate the important and persistent demands of ministry with needed reflection and deep thought about those ministries.

Response to these initiatives over our history has been predictably mixed among church members. Those who would rather “do” than think have derided the efforts for not being more focused on “what needs to be done.” The thinkers among us have sometimes criticized the efforts for asking the wrong questions.

At other points, the nature of how the invitations were distributed has caused offense. Still others do not like the vernacular of evaluation when it pertains to spiritual things, eschewing the usage of words like “efficiency,” “responsibility,” and “accountability.” That such responses exist should surprise no one familiar with our history.

Yet for those who have managed to see beyond these obstacles of relationship and language, there is profound value in stopping to take stock. My original concept for this column was to explore the M.O.R.E. 2000 program, offered as a service by the Conference to the churches in the early 1990s. When I began my research my hypothesis was that the program was an overwhelming success, and that the churches which undertook the full program experienced benefits which last down to the present, more than 20 years after the program’s genesis.

The results were not so clear as I assumed they would be, but nevertheless, of the approximately 20 churches that started the program, nearly all seem to have been better off at the end of the process than they were at the beginning. I am not anxious to ascribe the health of the churches to the program, as I am aware that there is an important difference between causation and correlation, and that all growth should be ascribed ultimately to our God.

Still, even if the program itself was not the cause of the increased vitality in the participating churches, the correlation between a healthier church and participation by that congregation in a concerted effort to remember the past, carefully consider the present, and make a plan for the future is surely no accident. It seems likely to me that churches who take the time to remember the past and reflect on their present situation are more likely—by virtue of those very acts—to be healthier in the future than their less reflective counterparts.

When was the last time you and your church took the time to stop and think? Programs still exist to help you reflect about your past, present and future. Taking the time to consider and contemplate can be a useful investment of your time!

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