Greg Jones, who served as dean of Duke Divinity School from 1997 to 2010, recently spoke to the Ministries Council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. His presentation focused on “deep trends affecting Christian institutions from the ‘digital revolution’ and the growing lack of trust in institutions among Americans to ‘reconfiguring denominations and emerging forms of congregating.’”
Michael Cheuk, chair of the Ministries Council, responded, “Very helpful to me was the concept of ‘traditioned innovation.’ Traditioned innovation honors the past but is not imprisoned by it. Neither does it innovate by making things up as we go along.”
Cheuk’s comments remind us of the rich tradition of the church. When we study church history, we discover a multitude of ways to worship, teach, fellowship, ministry, and witness. Some are complementary while others are contradictory. Under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, God’s people have used varied approaches to be on mission with God.
When we try something new in the church, we are always building on the past. Our past experiences can both inform and inhibit our progress. Wise leadership is necessary to help a congregation honor the past while laying aside those approaches which no longer work.
Early in the last century, Baptists in the South embraced a discipleship movement that began as “Baptist Young People’s Union” and evolved into “Training Union” and then “Discipleship Training.” I have not run into any churches lately that are still doing “Discipleship Training” on Sunday nights but I still hear the lament, “Everything when downhill when we lost ‘Training Union.’”
In reality, a number of things have contributed to slippage in church attendance and influence in recent years, not just the loss a particular program. There was a time when the denominational program of “Discipleship Training” did not exist, but people were being discipled. The need for disciple development continues and most church leaders have discovered that disciple formation has been happening in many forms and varied methodologies for the past two thousand years.
Our opportunity today is to tap into those rich resources and continue the task of growing disciples in our churches. We don’t suffer from a lack of possibilities.