How feelings make us live in the past
A friendly elderly man took me aside and hugged me one evening after our Sunday service in Filadelfia Church. With a somewhat blank expression in his eyes he proceeded to say, “It is so wonderful to see so many young people here today. It is outstanding!”
He held onto me a little longer and then said, “But I would like to give you some advice on something which you need to change. If you guys just sang these four songs” at which point he listed off the choice four, “then there will be a powerful atmosphere in which many will baptized in the Spirit.”
I thanked him for his engagement in the church and his ability to rejoice in what he saw happening with the young people. At the same time, his suggestions of songs spurred me to think over how we humans function.
In the teenage years our senses and feelings departments are more open and aware than they are later in life. Songs from the summer when you were 16 can still arose memories within you to this day.
I don’t think that it is a coincidence that during this time many of us have our most profound and moving encounters with God. No one is so radical and full of faith than a teenager who has just met Jesus. That is how we function.
In the same way that I think it’s normal for the teenage years to be full of strong encounters with God, I also don’t think it is strange that the same people who had on-fire teenage and young adult years complete with Bible schools and missions trips later change. The powerful experiences become more seldom, the questions multiply, and it gets harder to find again the glowing feelings of our youth.
The Swedish journalist Carl-Henric Jaktlund has written an excellent book on exactly this subject called, “Jesus Went On”. In the book he compares the changes from youth to adulthood with the change of being newly in love to love. Having newly in love feelings is good, exciting, and natural, but if those feelings don’t develop into deeper and more stable love, we will end up as immature people who are always on the lookout for the next new love, the next new kick. Said in another way, it is a sad thing indeed if a 25 year old dresses up in their high school uniform in order to party with teenagers.
Many of us possess a faith which through thick and thing appreciates strong feelings. We like passionate prayers, stirring testimonies, and reciting faith building creeds. But these things too can lead to religious stagnation. If, throughout my entire adult life, I am constantly seeking to regain some kind of feelings from my youth, than my journey is always in the past. And in the past everything usually looks so much better.
When the way we do church services or the way we’re organized or the worship songs change, I become speechless. Because those songs from that strong period of meeting God will always have special meaning for me.
That is just how we people are.
But, and this is a very big but, our faithfulness to the past doesn’t mean that we as people or the church should stop changing. We shouldn’t stop singing new songs, using new words, and doing new things.
For me I will always see a paradox in that I grew up hearing stories about how the pentecostal wave was the new thing God was doing because the old church had become stagnate and religious. Now we find ourselves over one hundred years later in the situation where half of this country’s pentecostal churches are without children or youth and are, in principle, dying.
Interestingly enough, the other church in the land who contains more members than Filadelfia Church is not pentecostal. It is St. Olav’s Catholic Church.
How Did It Become This Way?
There are probably many reasons why this is the situation we find ourselves in. We can talk about demography, secularization, poor weather and bad luck, but I don’t think it is purely coincidental that we find, like one of the old songs which I am fond of singing proclaims, “Change and decay in all around I see”.
It is true enough that we are encountering decay and change. Change contains a price, pains, and hardships. But I think one of the reasons why something so unnatural and sad like the church dwindling and dying out is taking place is the absence of change.
Therefore our loyalty should be more with the future than with the past. We should have a small rearview mirror and a large windshield. This is not an excuse for being rootless, however. We should still respect and learn from our history.
We should love change, the future, and the fact that the same God who created colors, music, and mango smoothies will continue to form new things. For the best, in the bigger picture of things, always lays before us.
Written by Andreas Hegertun. Translated by Emily Huyck.