Highland 75th – A Few Reflections

I enjoyed listening to Lynn Anderson and Mike Cope speak this morning at Moody coliseum during the Highland 75th Anniversary celebration.

Occasions such as this morning’s always feel a little strange. The temptation in our culture, when similar landmarks are passed in families and organizations, is to spend a lot of time talking about all of the great things that have been accomplished and all of the people that played a part in it. Its a way of congratulating ones self in hopes that it will inspire more people to greatness in the future.

But the story of scripture is largely about how God has worked in spite of human shortcomings, transforming the ordinary and lost into things that are extraordinary and spectacular. Mike – apparently well aware of the temptation – repeatedly reminded us that the point of this morning’s service, which was largely a retrospective look at Highland’s accomplishments through the last 75 years, was to understand the faithfulness of God to Highland, and not to congratulate ourselves on what a great bunch of folks we are.

It was interesting hearing about things like buildings and massive, organized ministries and preaching ministers and other renowned leaders. But I most enjoyed being reminded about how Highland was built by imperfect people who, by all visible accounts, were inadequately equipped for the tasks God gave to them. I heard about the humble beginnings of the church, which met in a basement for several years before an above-ground auditorium was built. I was reminded about Bill Nash, and the way God has used him to help make Highland a place where the chemically dependent can find hope and acceptance. I wept with Lynn Anderson as he confessed that the only reason he could preach as boldly as he did during the 70s and 80s was because he was reminded- during communion every Sunday – that he was washed by Jesus’ blood; otherwise, he would be unworthy for such a task.

It is hard to know what the future holds for Highland. I’m no prognosticator, but the voices that are making the most sense to me about the future of Christianity in our culture are coming from the emerging church movement. That is a movement which, by and large, rejects the “superchurch” model on which Highland is currently built. In times of cultural upheaval, it seems, followers of Jesus generally function most effectively in small platoons, rather than large institutions, which change and adapt too slowly, and which are prone to hold too tightly onto traditional ideas, organizational schemes and practices.

Are there ways for large institutions to continue to function in relevant ways in an emerging postmodern culture? Probably so, but the challenges are going to be enormous.

I’m not sure whether I’ll be around in 25 years when the 100th anniversary rolls around. Assuming that God grants me another 25 years of life, I’ll be 65 years old at that point. Part of me is inclined to think that, by that time, I will have found my way into a less traditional fellowship: one that places greater emphasis on disciple-making and day-to-day outreach and less on worship assemblies and preaching ministries and organized “church programs.” But part of me also wonders if, in 25 years, that isn’t the kind of place that Highland will become.

Buckle your seat belt, friends. God has used Highland in some great ways during the last 75 years, but the next 25 years may be about a revolution that makes everything that came before it seem tame…


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