“The times, they are a-changing”

If your household receives The Baptist Record, our MS Baptist convention’s
weekly publication, you probably read the article “Lifeway shuttering all
locations across nation”. Lifeway is the publishing arm of our Southern
Baptist Convention and they have operated retail stores all across the U.S.
since 1891. Until about twenty years ago, the stores were known as “The
Baptist Bookstore” and the closest one to me is located in Tupelo. But by
the end of the year, all of them will close permanently.

I have mixed emotions about the closure of our Lifeway Christian Stores.
On one hand, they have provided us with not only a valuable resource for
purchasing church supplies but also a place where people can shop for
Bibles, Christian books, videos, music and gifts. I wonder how many people
came into a Lifeway Christian Store searching for answers to life’s
problems and learned about Jesus from something the saw, heard or read.

But I must admit that it has been a while since I visited a Lifeway store.
I used to go there often to purchase Bibles and books for sermon
preparation and personal study. I purchased accompaniment tracks for
worship music, videos and toys for our daughter, and countless VBS kits and
church supplies. But lately, I shop for those things online and apparently
I’m not the only one. Visits to Lifeway stores are down by 80% compared to
twenty years ago. So Lifeway is redirecting their focus on internet sales
and shuttering their physical stores because it just doesn’t make any
financial sense to keep them open.

I suppose we could have kept the Lifeway stores open out of tradition or a
reluctance to change. Our denomination could continue to lose money by
operating these unprofitable businesses simply because, “that’s the way
we’ve always done it”. But as much as I’ll miss seeing Lifeway stores in
shopping centers around the country, I believe closing them is the right
decision.

An incident like this should prompt us to ask ourselves about the things
we do in our churches. Maybe some of those programs and practices worked
twenty years ago, but how about today? Are they still effective or would we
be better served exploring new strategies? Sure, we don’t want to change
and maybe we wish for the way things used to be, but are we willing to
waste our time and resources on things that don’t work anymore simply for
the sake of nostalgia and tradition? One of the reasons why the Jewish
religious officials opposed Jesus was because He didn’t conform to their
rituals and traditions. Jesus rightly pointed out that while some of these
practices might have been beneficial in the days of Moses, now they were
actually a stumbling block for those who were sincerely seeking the Lord.
So, as we move forward and seek to be the best Christians and the best
churches we can be for the times we live in, let’s be willing to try new
things and even change some of our old ways if it means that we can better
reach the lost with the life-changing message of the gospel.

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