Summary: Now that this church has rebuilt its basic structure, it is time to go on and make it all work. To do so, go back to rediscover God’s intention for humanity and understand that the church is to restore the "garden."
One spiritual principle shows up over and over again in the Scriptures. One theme is repeated endlessly: and that is that the way to go forward is to go back. The way to move ahead with your life is to go back, to go back to its roots, go back to its foundations, where you discover what is valuable and discard what is hurtful. The way to move forward is to go back.
And so the psychotherapist, when he works with an emotional disorder, will often ask you to go back and talk about your childhood. He will lead you to explore those formative years in which so much of your emotional life took shape. He does this because he knows that before some of us can do any kind of personal growth, we will have to go back and either appreciate or discard the “stuff" that was given us at an early age. The way to move forward is to go back, to go back and find out what is truly valuable and what is not.
This is as true for a whole church as it is for an individual. We as a church must now chart our course for the next few years. In fact, it’s quite a challenge. We must get ready for the 21st Century and the third millennium! How do we do it?
We go back to our roots, we return to the things which have brought us thus far, and evaluate each one of them. The way to go forward is always to go back.
To find out where we ought to go, let’s go back, then, and rediscover God’s original intent, not just for the church, but for humanity. What was God after, going back to the very beginning?
Genesis 2:7-9, 15-18
In this lovely creation story Genesis we learn that God placed us in a garden. "The Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man who he had formed." God placed us in a garden, and then placed us into relationship, both with Himself and with one another. "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner." God’s intention for humanity, from the very beginning, is that we should live in fellowship with Him, in creative partnership with one another, and in responsible relationship to our world. That is the garden of delight into which He has placed us.
And, I would argue, that gives us a clue to the purpose of His church. We have over and over again violated God’s intent; we have broken fellowship with God and have distorted our relationships with one another, and we have been irresponsible stewards. So God has given the church to His world. The church is here to recreate the garden. The church is here to restore the beauty and the harmony of fellowship with God and with one another. The church does not exist as an end in itself. It exists to restore the garden. It exists to redeem human life. The way to go forward for us, the church, is to go back and remember God’s original intention for the church.
I stood before you in January of 1987 and offered a program to redevelop Takoma Park Baptist Church. At that point, as a new pastor, I had heard from you your heart-cry about your church and all that it needed to become. I felt it was my responsibility to work with you to put into place those things which you said you needed and which, in fact, were essential for a successful church.
You may remember that we adopted the image of building a building to describe what we hoped to accomplish. Do you remember?
Do you remember that we began by "securing the foundations"? That is, we rebuilt the staff and put into place procedures to help us get properly organized.
Next, in 1988, we "opened the windows". We tried to improve our work in education. New Sunday School workers were enlisted; new classes were organized.
Third, in 1989, we opened not just the windows, but the doors also. We wrote an evangelism strategy, we organized an evangelism committee and a Sunday School outreach team. We prepared ourselves to reach out and touch others’ lives for Christ. Do you remember?
The following year, 1990, knowing that we would have a number of new members in place, our focus was on "sanding the floors". That image reminded us that training new leaders and preparing them for their work in the life of the church involves some sacrifice. But when I look over our leadership roster now and see how many persons are giving us their talents who were not even members of the church six or seven years ago, I know that this emphasis was right on target.