How a Church’s History Can Light Its Way Forward by Ryan Hoselton

One of the first Sundays I visited Third Avenue Baptist Church, an 11-year-old named Jacob Keisling asked me if I’d like a tour. I felt like Alice chasing the rabbit into a different world—one-time meeting rooms; offices filled with old photos, newspaper articles, and artifacts used in worship services decades ago; a former chapel; a library. It was a world this local church body had experienced and created in generations past. I left that afternoon with a sense of solidarity with the church’s joys, struggles, and mission.

When we think of church history, we typically talk about figures like Emperor Constantine and Martin Luther, or events like the Donatist Controversy and the Reformation. But while most of us won’t write influential theological tomes like Augustine or lead a transatlantic religious awakening like George Whitefield, we each directly participate in church history through our local congregations. Every church inherits the past, and every generation of a church leaves something behind—often, if we’re honest, a mixture of both fruits and scars.

Bruce Keisling (my tour guide Jacob’s father) has a passion for history, the local church, and the Old Louisville community where he and Third Avenue live. Ever since joining the church in 1999, Bruce has endured through thick and thin to help see the formerly shrinking congregation thrive once more. Currently the Associate Dean of Libraries at the University of Louisville (just down the road from the church), Bruce also serves as a lay elder—and so much more—at Third Avenue. He kindly agreed to share his wisdom with CT on how a local church’s history affects its present and future.

Why should anyone, from the senior pastor to a new member, care about the history of their local church?

When you become part of a local church, you become part of a family. Regardless of whether you are a new member or the senior pastor, your ability to love and serve well in the church will be helped by knowing something about its history. Not just the pastor, but every member of the church has an obligation to minister to others in the church, and that ministry will be enhanced by knowing something about the story, the highs and the lows, of that church through the years.

Every congregation also has distinctive beliefs and practices that have been shaped by the broader story of church history. Both that broader story and the particular story of a local church help to inform belief and practice. The current and future directions of the church are shaped, in part, by many previous decisions. Understanding those decisions and their contexts will helpfully inform future planning. While I’ve never been on church staff, knowing the fundamentals of the history of my 122-year-old church has helped me love, serve, and lead.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Ryan Hoselton