Why Your Local Church’s History Should Matter to Your Church Members
New membership classes often teach through a church’s beliefs about Christ’s bride, statement of faith, and membership covenant. These seem like obvious topics for prospective church members.
But in the name of expedience, some pastors may be tempted not to include a class on their own local church’s history. Not so fast! Your congregation’s story is worth retelling for at least three reasons.
1. It’s a reminder of God’s kind providence.
First, understanding your church’s history is one way to recount how God has providentially worked amongst a particular group of people. We typically think of God’s sovereignty in the details of our personal lives and great moments of history. For example, we boast that God was wonderfully sovereign in Martin Luther posting the 95 Theses to Wittenberg’s Castle Church door. And we recognize that God is ultimately sovereign over whether or not we receive a job promotion.
Yet it seems we don’t often think of God as sovereign over the planting and preserving of local churches. The who, what, when, where, and why questions pertaining are all under God’s authority. Teaching potential members how God has sustained your church will encourage them that Christ is still building his church, including this specific one. We gain confidence that God is still on his throne, and not in an abstract, hands-off way. He is Lord even over the smallest details of a local church’s history.
2. It’s a reminder of God’s work before us.
Second, knowing history roots a local church’s self-awareness within God’s eternal kingdom. A local church is an embassy of Christ’s eternal kingdom on Earth. By not teaching your church where it specifically came from (who planted and watered it), you subtly imply that you’re the first generation to represent Christ on Earth.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The local church is not a modern invention. Each and every gospel-preaching church is an integral outpost of the kingdom Christ established, and your local body stands in the great chorus of brothers and sisters throughout time and space who have declared their allegiance to Christ.
3. It’s a reminder of our priorities.
Third, church history reminds every generation of believers that they are given a particular stewardship—to share the gospel and make disciples.
Every believer who came before you lived and died, as will you. Each local body has the duty to preach the gospel so the kingdom of Christ continues marching forward after the Lord calls you home.
Consider your own conversion: the reason you are a believer is because someone else became a believer and shared the gospel with you. And someone shared the gospel with them, and so on. There is a great chain of evangelism and discipleship that stretches from your day to Christ and the Apostles. Church history, despite the many bleak episodes, is at minimum the gradual manifestation of the Great Commission. Knowing history humbles God’s people and clarifies what they are to do: preach the gospel, build up one another in the faith, and trust the Lord for fruit—just as generations of believers have always done.
Understanding your church’s history ought to be tremendously encouraging. It helps explain the specific identity of your congregation. It puts names to those “saints of old” who even now surround us (Heb. 12:1).
Yes, we must teach potential members the biblical doctrine of the church and our responsibilities toward other members. But also know that teaching them the history of the body they intend to join explains how our understanding of the church was put into practice.