EDITOR’S NOTE: Doug Munton is first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
O’FALLON, Ill. (BP) — Our church just marked our sesquicentennial. That is a dandy of a word that means we were formed 150 years ago. By the standards of Europe it isn’t so much, but Illinois isn’t Europe. So a sesquicentennial is not as common here.
First Baptist Church in O’Fallon, Ill., was formed at what was just a small railroad stop. Over the years we have had some ups and downs. The church nearly closed in 1973. But for the last 40 -plus years the church has grown steadily and has become a rather large congregation.
We aren’t perfect as we are made up of people. We have had imperfect leaders as they, too, have been people. But God has had His hand on this congregation and has blessed the church in ways that are difficult to explain apart from God.
Since I’ve been immersed in our history more than usual, I want to reflect on some lessons we have learned from our past 150 years.
1. A good foundation matters.
The church was Bible-based and God-centered from the beginning. The founders wanted the spread of the Gospel message and evangelistic zeal to be at the heart of the church and that foundation saw them through many early difficulties.
2. Faith in the Lord is crucial.
We don’t place our faith in people as we are all “prone to wander” as the old song says. We have had great leaders over the years. But our faith is rightly placed in the Lord and in His plans and purposes and not in ours.
3. Big steps of faith are needed in every generation.
Building the first building was huge. It burned to the ground one night and the next generation built a brick building in its place. Growth caused the church to run out of space (parking needs were different in 1867) and relocation was a big step of faith. Going to multiple worship services and Sunday Schools and building the slew of building since were all massive undertakings.
4. The old guys had some good ideas.
Beware moving spiritual and historical markers until you know why they were put up. Previous generations had some great ideas and we want to take the best of all they had to offer and honor their sacrifices.
5. Change is inevitable.
Just as newborns change from babies to adults, churches must change. Parking needs as mentioned earlier have changed greatly. So have the programs and music and methodology of our church. About the only things that haven’t changed are God’s truth and man’s need.
6. People matter.
God loves this sinful race. We can be whiny and wimpy even after salvation. But God loves us and calls us and works through us. We need each other and God blesses us together.
7. Remembering the past can help us dream about the future.
I’m asking God for faith like my forefathers. I’m asking Him to help us dream big dreams and plan big plans and do great things for His glory just like they did. Faith can be sort of contagious, it seems.
The past is past and we can live only in the present. But maybe we can learn some lessons from bygone days that will benefit us now as we face the future. Now, time to start thinking about the bicentennial.