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March 19, 2014

On New Puppies and Old Dogs


Revisiting the old dogs

It’s easier for me to get excited about the new puppy than to continue to focus my energy on the old dog. It’s easier to buy the new book that everyone is talking about and put it on your bed stand than it is to finish slogging through the one you started last month. It’s easier to make a trip to Best Buy and start dreaming about a wireless music system than it is to finish the basement-organizing project I started two years ago.

And it’s relatively easy for a pastor to get into ‘new puppy’ mode when thinking about church.

When we were in the final stages of the denominational discernment, I’ll admit there were times when I thought about just breaking free from a church with so much baggage, so much history, and so many connections to other churches. There were times when our ‘connectionalism’ got moved in my mind from the asset column to the liabilities.

As I fantasized about starting new, and beginning fresh, I just assumed Paul would be an easy ally to this direction of my thinking. After all, Paul seemed to always be starting fresh and beginning something new. The only time it seemed Paul ever stopped his forward progress and entered into reflective mode about the places he’d been was when he was in jail.

But this passage in Acts 14 showed me a different side of Paul.

Paul and his companions were on their first missionary journey and it looked as if they were on the last leg of the journey. They’d started in Antioch and were roughly making a circle throughout the surrounding regions, spreading the gospel and starting churches wherever they went.

They were in Derbe and had completed about ¾ of the circle. It would have been relatively easy for them to continue heading East through Paul’s hometown in Tarsus and then on to Antioch to complete the circle. From their, Paul could have re-grouped and begun his second missionary journey.

But instead of heading East and finishing the loop, Paul and his companions double back and head West. They go back to many of the cities where they had already been. And if that wasn’t enough, they even revisited a few cities where they were treated rather badly.

The importance of revisiting

So, why does Paul go back to cities where he already started churches instead of getting on to his second missionary journey to go plant more new churches? In Acts 14:22 it tells they came back for the purpose of, “strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.”

Paul’s ultimate goal was not just to start churches, but rather to ‘present everyone mature in Christ’ (Col. 1:28). And Paul knew that a new church isn’t likely to produce mature disciples if it burns out within one year. So Paul and his companions make the hard journey back to the places they’ve been to visit the churches they started in order to remind them to stay true to the faith, appoint good leaders, and remind them to hold on in the midst of a difficult journey.

Don’t get me wrong, Paul is very much into the new puppy. He loves seeing people come to Christ and he loves to plant churches. But what I discovered in Acts 14 is that Paul isn’t interested in pursuing the new puppy at the expense of the old dog. Paul wants churches to flourish and grow for the long haul.

ECO is also very much about the new puppy. Evangelism and planting churches is a top priority for ECO, but ECO is also committed to strengthening and building up established local churches. As a Pastor called to love and care for an ‘old dog’ church, I’m encouraged by this. And I’m glad ECO is helping us re-affirm our commitment to scripture, building up healthy leaders, and forming new connectional bonds.

I’m thankful to be part of a movement that has room for both the new puppy as well as for the old dogs.

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