Backwards Compatible Church

The scrawny lad heaved his pile of video games onto the counter. With a hint of sadness in his voice, he asks the clerk, “How much can I get for these”? The poor lad looks as if his best-friend just informed him that he’s moving across the state.

As I’m wondering why this kid had to get rid of all of his games, I over hear nerd talk. The guys at the video game store are talking about backwards compatibility. Apparently, once this little dude opens up his new PS4 or XBox One for Christmas all of his previous games are obsolete. His old games won’t work on the new system.

As I observed that little kid—depressed by what he’s letting go but excited about the new world he is about to experience—I thought about the church. How many times are church members like that little boy? They bought into the vision of the new pastor, signed off on the mission statement, created the banners hailing the churches new purpose statement, and six months later have to burn them in the bonfire he built as part of his vision for intergenerational ministry.

The new pastor isn’t backwards compatible. The words he uses are different. The things that he emphasizes and de-emphasizes are different. The last guy was huge on involvement in the local soup kitchen. It was his thing. Not the new guy. His thing is small group ministry. So, the church will move in that direction. They’ll build new signs. Promote new events. And do this until they have a new pastor with a new schtick.

The Nintendo Generation

Us young folk don’t have as hard of a time with this constant change. We’ve grown accustomed to throwing out all of the toys that aren’t backwards compatible. After all, shoving a Nintendo cartridge into your Super Nintendo wasn’t good for the game or the system. So, we’ve become comfortable with starting over every couple years.

Yet, most of the people in our churches are part of the LEGO generation. LEGO’s are backwards compatible. If my son happened to stumble upon a box of LEGO’s that his grandpa played with in the 60’s, they’d still fit like a glove. The colors might be faded, some of the stickers would be different, but it would fit right in. The LEGO generation isn’t accustomed to having to throw things away with every new model that comes along.

I’m part of the Nintendo generation, but if I’m being honest I prefer LEGO’s. Churches would be far more healthy if they were backwards compatible. The gospel is timeless. Yes, some of our methods for delivering the message of the gospel has to change with the culture. But at the end of the day while the gospel is able to make it’s home in any culture, it is ultimately transcultural. Centering a church on the glory of God isn’t something that you’ll need to change with a new pastor.

Every new generation will build something new with their set of LEGO’s, but they can use the same set of LEGO’s. That’s the point that I’m making. Pastors should be intentional about leading their congregations to be centered upon that which is timeless. The next pastor ought to be able to come behind you—pick up the LEGO set and start building something beautiful with his own hands. He shouldn’t have to go to the local GameStop, trade in all of your ideas, and start from the ground up.

If you’re that new pastor, be as backwards compatible as possible. Build upon the unchanging gospel foundations that the guy before you laid. Yeah, be yourself. But don’t switch stuff around just for the sake of showing everyone that a new sheriff is in town. And be sure that you leave the same set of LEGO’s for the next guy…