At first, the symptoms are not obvious. Early on you can still speak and hold simple conversations. Most people don’t even notice anything is wrong. Then you’re sitting at a red light, and suddenly you can’t remember where you are or even how to make the car move forward.
That’s how Alzheimer’s disease works. It’s an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that destroys your memory and thinking skills and, eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest tasks.
According to the Centers for Disease Control more than 5 million Americans 65 or older suffer from this form of dementia. The pain of memory loss and cognition not only affects the person with the disease but entire family groups of those who suffer from it.
In a similar pattern, our churches and personal spiritual lives suffer dire consequences when we lose our corporate memory and a vital piece of our faith dies.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed so many of the things about life and ministry as we know it. I’ve talked with pastors and church leaders who feel unclear about the way forward. These are uncertain and unprecedented times for sure. At the same time, I feel we can learn an important lesson from Alzheimer’s patients to illuminate our current path forward.
Unlike the physical disease, which is irreversible, our corporate memory can be regenerated. I’m encouraged because there are at least three things we can do to recover momentum for our ministries.
First, we can look back. When we’re faced with a time of uncertainty, we can look back at how our church began and see what is important. A historical perspective is critical to regaining our sense of purpose and direction. Reminding ourselves about our beginnings and learning from those who’ve gone before us gives us anchor points to build from.
A second way we can strengthen our spiritual memory is by looking at how God has led our church in the past. When I find myself at a loss for how to move forward, remembering the points in my life, in my family and even in my church when I have seen God working gives me hope and courage. Even remembering a single moment when I believe God has touched my life or showed up can be enough move me forward.
One way to provide stability for Alzheimer’s patients is keeping a daily routine. In a similar manner, we can strengthen our ministries by reminding ourselves of our core principles. What are the constants of our faith and ministry? Remembering the heart of our calling is a third way we an strengthen our corporate memory.
In this issue, we celebrate 115 years of Gleaner ministry. We're looking back through history to help anchor ourselves now and find courage for the days ahead. Some ministry methods may need to be changed, but the core of our mission remains unchanged. We are called to share Christ’s love and the hope of His return with a dying world. As we strengthen our corporate memory, the sluggish and, maybe, even dying parts can gain new life when we look at our past and rediscover what really matters.