Andrew C. Schroer 

I recently read that the standard U.S. railroad track is 4 feet, 8.5 inches wide. That’s a rather odd measurement, don’t you think? Why build railroad tracks that width? 

The answer is simple. Immigrants from England designed our railroads, and that’s the width they used in England. 

But why did they use that width in England? It turns out that the people who built the railroads in England were also the ones who earlier had built the tramways. That’s the width they used. 

Why did the tramway builders use that width? Because the people who built the tramways were also the ones who built the wagons and that is the width they used. 

Why did the wagon builders use that width? Because that was the width of the wagon ruts already worn into the roadways of England. 

And why were the wagon ruts that width? The ruts in the roads were first made by Roman chariots when Rome ruled England more than 1,500 years ago. The distance between wheels on an ancient Roman chariot was exactly 4 feet, 8.5 inches. 

So why are our railroad tracks 4 feet, 8.5 inches wide? Blame it on the Romans. 

Why do you do what you do at your church? Sometimes it is because God clearly says in his Word that is the way it should be done. When God reveals his will, we comply. Period.  

But like the width of our railroad tracks, we often don’t even know why we do what we do in our churches. We’ve just always done it that way. It’s tradition. 

Don’t get me wrong. Tradition can be a good thing. Often it is based on centuries of wisdom and experience. Traditions have stood the test of time for a reason. They should not be changed lightly. 

Yet we often treat traditions as divine directives. We cling to them. We cherish them. We get angry when anyone suggests we change them. 

Change can be scary. 

Sometimes, though, change is necessary. “We’ve always done it that way” is never a good argument to keep doing something. The way we’ve always done things may not be the best or wisest way. 

As time passes, the opportunities, gifts, and challenges God gives each church change. The way your church operates today may have been the best way to serve God 50 years ago, but it may not be today. 

Churches often get stuck in ruts exactly 4 feet, 8.5 inches wide when they don’t take the time to periodically ask: Why are we doing what we are doing? Should we adjust what we are doing to serve God and others better and more efficiently? 

The answers to those questions aren’t always easy. Wisdom and love dictate that we don’t fall into the ditch on either side of the road. On one side of the road, we despise tradition and changing things simply for the sake of change. We shouldn’t quickly cast aside the wisdom of time-tested traditions and the feelings of those who cherish them. But on the other side, the ditch is just as dangerous—blindly clinging to traditions and refusing to evaluate honestly what we are doing and to consider new ideas. 

It is healthy for Christians to evaluate the ministry of their churches periodically so they can serve God and others to the best of their ability and to his glory. Every Christian congregation needs voices that lovingly and humbly ask, “Why are we doing what we are doing?”  

Could you be that voice in your church? 

Contributing editor Andrew Schroer is pastor at Redeemer, Edna, Texas. 


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Author: Andrew C. Schroer
Volume 105, Number 10
Issue: October 2018

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