Nostalgia is sentimental remembrance of previous times or significant events that continue to stir happy or meaningful personal recollections. Worship nostalgia can be a healthy time of reflection as long as its primary purpose is to remind how the past laid the foundation for the present and future. If, however, those remembrances result in an excessive yearning and compulsion to return to the “good old days,” then nostalgia may be killing your worship.
The word nostalgia is derived from the two Greek words: nostos, meaning homecoming, and algos, meaning pain. The medical professionals who coined the word in the late 18th century were describing an emotional and physical condition, not the current meaning of wistful thoughts of earlier times. In its original definition, nostalgia was viewed as a crippling condition that rendered sufferers incapacitated by despair or intense homesickness.
Nostalgia was considered a legitimate reason for voluntary release from military service even through the 1860’s. If a soldier became too overwhelmed by thoughts of home or the life he left behind, his abilities for service could be compromised. Nostalgia in reasonable doses can provide a sense of comfort. But too much can have a negative effect perpetuating the belief that an earlier time is preferable to present day conditions. Getting caught up in feelings about a more ideal past can make the present seem unfulfilling by comparison.
This excessive nostalgia as it relates to worship can cause a congregation to romanticize, idealize and even embellish past worship practices in an effort to coerce present generations to perpetuate that past for future generations. Consequently, extending those previous practices has the potential to limit a congregation to its past performance, potentially killing present and future worship efforts. The end result is worship that attempts to re-create divine moments, events or even seasons based almost completely on the idealized emotions that were originally stirred.
Signs Nostalgia May Be Killing Your Worship
- Attempts are made to canonize one particular style or genre of music.
- Most worship conversations begin with Do you remember instead of Can you imagine.
- An inordinate amount of time is spent planning and preparing for reunions and anniversaries.
- Much more time is devoted to protecting old songs and worship actions than praying for and considering new ones.
- Worship vision seems to look in the rearview mirror for the way things used to be instead of out the window for the way things could be.
- Budgets are absorbed on the physical and organizational institution of gathered worship without considering the spiritual mission of dispersed worship.
- Leaders are selected or dismissed according to who can best represent and perpetuate the past.
- Resurrecting or recreating older worship actions to reflect former generations always takes priority over newer actions to impact future generations.
Nostalgically designing the vision, practices, procedures and future of your worship to replicate the Good Old Days usually succeeds in getting it half right…it is old.