February 13, 2016 | Steve Vistaunet

“If I am voted in as pastor of this church,” said the prospective pastor to the search committee, “I will work hard to bring us into the 20th century.”

A rather astute soul spoke up, “Preacher, don't you mean the 21st century?”

“Well, no,” quipped the pastor. “Given what I’ve seen here, let's take it one century at a time!”

I smile at this, but progress is not always easy to define or accept. What initially appears as a bright idea is sometimes belatedly discovered to be dysfunctional and damaging. On the other hand, foundational pillars, undeniably important to the stability of any structure or organization, don’t necessarily prevent growth or renovation. Committees are full of this polarized dichotomy: While one member says, “We’ve never done it that way before,” someone else is undoubtedly thinking, if not saying, “Why not?”

Consider the ubiquitous automobile. In my estimation it's a good thing they don't make 'em like they used to. Tires blew out with astonishing regularity. Carburetors flooded and stalled. Miles per gallon in the teens was a real achievement. Engines were grease factories — and starting them required choreographed footwork between gas pedal and choke. Windshield wipers, powered by engine vacuum, stuttered slowly back and forth at stop lights. Gleaming chrome dashboard edges became deadly in any major accident. The good ol' days they were not.

Decades later, things have dramatically changed. My former vehicle took me nearly 300,000 miles with nary a whimper. My current conveyance (knock on wood) is even better. But to peer under the hood is to be daunted. There a computer runs the show. You need a user name and password to change a spark plug.

I am glad my church still depends on people, who in turn depend upon our gracious God.  But I do think progress would be good for us in areas where a breath of fresh air would do wonders. Here are some “what ifs” to consider.

What if Jesus treated those who are different than He is, the same way we treat those who are different than we are?

What if our church leaders and committees actually reflected the demographics of our congregations?

What if we talked about Jesus as much as we did Donald Trump or Ben Carson?

What if we concentrated more on making a difference than we do on just being different?

What if each of us introduced just one additonal person to Jesus each year?

I’m convinced our church must become more intentional about progress that is faithful to the biblical mandate of the gospel commission. If anything in our structure, policies, financial priorities or attitudes does not mirror our spiritual calling, it must be jettisoned as excess baggage.

The writer of Hebrews confirms the urgency we face: “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Heb. 12:1).

Our vision must be mindful of the past but focused on the goal ahead.

Yogi Berra, the iconic Yankee, had it right. “The future,” he said, “ain’t what it used to be.” While I can't put Yogi on par with the prophets of old, I think he was on to something.

By God’s grace, I am counting on it.