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Can You Teach an Old Dog, New Tricks?

As I have gotten older, some of my ideas and attitudes have matured as well. I feel that I am more open-minded to new ideas and willing to explore them for meaning and context before adopting or dismissing them than I was twenty years ago. But on the other hand, some of my attitudes have been firmly cemented into my core over the years. For example, the low level of tolerance I have in the month of October for friends that are fans of a particular university in Alabama clad in crimson is still unwavering. That leads me to the age old question handed down from generation to generation – CAN you teach an old dog, new tricks?
The idiom, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” dates back to as early as 1523, at least in print. Sir Anthony Fitzherbert wrote in The Book of Husbandry – “the dog must learn when he is a whelp or else it will not be, for it is hard to make an old dog to stoop.” A few years ago, The Mythbusters guys seemed to debunk this myth by teaching two 7 year old dogs (that’s middle age in human years) to respond to some simple commands in only four days. But I think Sir Anthony was addressing the servant relationship of a working dog to his master and not some simple dog tricks that won’t be retained unless they continue to reinforce the behavior.
When you translate this common idiom to human relationships, it obviously means that a youthful mind more easily accepts and adopts new ideas and behaviors. Current studies tell us that if a teenager/young adult is to become a regular church-attender, then we must engage their mind by the time they are 13 years old, some even suggest before age 10. Thus, the challenge we are facing in today’s culture is we are surrounded by millions of “old dogs” that haven’t engaged with Jesus’ Gospel and there are too many churches that have accepted the old adage that they can’t be taught “new tricks.”
I firmly believe that we can help people not in church to change their stories; as a matter of fact, I truly believe it is our number one priority as followers of Jesus! But, if we can’t capture the imagination of these people before they become teenagers, then how do we help them write a new story as “old dogs?” I think there are two compelling factors in our favor as the Church:
First, Jesus’ Gospel is absolutely the most compelling story of a God that loves us unconditionally and sacrificed everything for our salvation. If we are telling Jesus’ story and his church’s stories in ways that people can understand, then we have a chance to capture the hearts of people far from God and write a new story for them to live into.
Second, in addition to the Church actually living into their stories of loving and serving their neighbors, we have people that changed their story and changed/saved their lives by following Jesus. The church and our people have real stories to real people about real change in their lives.
ChurchCMO’s mission is to help churches tell their stories to hurting and hopeless people and connect them to Jesus. Our process helps churches to explore, understand, and translate our stories to new audiences; to live into Jesus Story as churches and as individuals; and to tell our stories using the tools and technology to reach people far from the church.

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