Why Do We Celebrate The Past?

Dan Bracken, Ginghamsburg Communication Director

Observing the past is a tricky exercise.

If we’re not careful, we can idolize it.

Past hurts leave us paralyzed. Over-fixating on our mistakes, we play the “what if” game. We can’t move on because we’re scared to experience the pain of repeat failure.

Past success leaves us too comfortable. We know what works, so we gradually succumb to status-quo living. The adventure and thrill of risk gives way to, “we’ve never done it that way before.” There’s nothing more magnetic than a dusty trophy shelf. We all want to be a part of something magnificent, and it’s like quicksand when that magnificent thing happened 20 years ago. The “glory days” imprison us.

This month, Ginghamsburg Church celebrates 160 years of ministry. So how do we observe the past without risking our future?  Forgiveness is not forgetting, and cap-feathers are not forever.


1. Acceptance.

In the last 160 years, there have been ups (being named the 9th most influential church in America, rescuing 900 children from slavery in Sudan) and downs (not sure how vulnerable I should be here… losing thousands in attendance through the pandemic comes to mind). Though the waves come, we are who we are.

The past cannot be changed, nor can it be forced to happen again. Who we are today is who we are today. We are no longer the church we were, and that’s ok. We are not yet the church we will be, and that’s ok.

2. Gratitude.

Before worship one Sunday, I had a conversation with Ken Overholser. Ken is a former Ginghamsburg staff member who was essential to the success of The Avenue, Ginghamsburg’s student event center. Ken is recently retired, and still connected to his life group, which formed at Ginghamsburg several years back. Referring to those we used to work with, Ken said to me, “Dan, it’s amazing to think how scattered we all are.”


We then shared a moment of gratitude for all God has done. I can think of several former Ginghamsburg co-workers who are doing incredible ministry in other parts of the world. Friends of mine leading their own churches, working for major brands, writing books, making movies…Ginghamsburg was a petri dish of exploration. Was…maybe still is? Maybe will be again? Doesn’t matter… All you need to say is, “WOW”. Don’t get caught sayin, “how?” – That assumes human manufacturing. Wow simply gives the credit to God.

528557804 Scan 126

3. Focus.

There’s a difference between cultural practice and core values. Cultural practices change. Core values do not. Technology comes and technology goes. Politicians come and politicians go. Pastors come and pastors go. Friends come and friends go. WE come and WE go. But love…love stays.

Ginghamsburg is and always will be about Jesus, God’s purest manifestation of love.

Jesus is why Ginghamsburg has lasted 160 years. From day one, our outreach ministries grew out of the desire to meet the needs of our neighborhood. We are still that neighborhood church.

The cell group movement of the 1980s was motivated by Jesus (belonging and acceptance), the media reformation of the 1990s was motivated by Jesus (evangelism and reaching the lost), the missional movement of the 2000s was motivated by Jesus (sacrificial giving to improve the lives of others). We feed the hungry, heal the sick, comfort the afflicted and lead our children well because of Jesus.

We love Jesus. And we do something about it.

If we focus on Jesus, we can get excited about the future. That’s why we’re celebrating 160 years… not to idolize the past, but to embrace ourselves for the next wave. Are you ready?

528559347 Scan 98
528559415 Scan 104
528559930 Water Borehole Sign

“Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed – that exhilarating finish in and with God – he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!” – Hebrews 12:2-3, The Message