History is boring! How many times has that been said, mostly by schoolchildren who have to learn names, dates, and events for an exam? History can be boring, but it doesn’t need to be.
I have been a vocational historian of Christianity for the past two decades and have had the joy of teaching aspects of the subject to men and women around the world, in classroom settings as well as church settings. One of my goals is to teach history in a way that makes the story come alive, stirs interest, engages the listeners, and demonstrates its relevance to my hearers. Of course, to do this, to make history alive, engaging, interesting, and relevant to others, it has to be all of those things to me. I can’t teach others to love what I find boring or uninteresting.
Therefore, while I taught seminary, I tried to give my students a love for history. Sometimes it worked. A few years back, a student who had struggled a bit in class called me from his first pastorate to tell me he had been visiting a retirement center and had run into a retired priest who probed the young Baptist pastor about church history. The former student was elated that he felt he could go toe to toe with the retired gentlemen. Admittedly, I found this story satisfying, for I had evidently accomplished my goal.
So even if we are not vocational church historians, why should we teach church history in our churches? How will stories from the past profit churches today? What purpose might it serve to provide believers with occasional or regular lessons or illustrations from church history?