A Museum to Missed Opportunity
by Tom Goodman
September 23, 2010
I read an interesting article by Texas pastor Gene Wilkes. He compared the history of the quaint Texas town of Jefferson to church work and drew some important conclusions. As leaders, let's heed his caution:
On our 15th wedding anniversary, I surprised my wife by sweeping her away to a favorite getaway -- Jefferson, a small town in east Texas known for its historic bed-and-breakfasts. My wife loves antiques, so the town's restored homes and history
made this the perfect gift for her. After checking into the famed Excelsior Hotel, we began to wander through the town and soon discovered how it gained its place in history.
We were surprised to find that by the late 1840s Jefferson had become the leading commercial and distribution center of Northeast Texas. In the 1870s, Jefferson was second to Galveston in its volume of commerce and had a population of almost
7,500. What had made it so prosperous, and what had happened to make it what it was today? Early inhabitants discovered steamboats could navigate Big Cypress Creek that ran through the town to Shreveport and on to Galveston. Cotton
could be carried to the port, and goods from around the world could be floated upstream to the settlers of Texas and on to the western plains. Jefferson was the hub of business from the frontier and farms to the world.
We wondered, if things were so wonderful then, why is it a town of restored buildings and historical markers today? Why was it a tourist attraction rather than a center of commerce? As we poked around, we learned why Jefferson was no
longer a vibrant business center.
The event that hurried the end of Jefferson's vitality was its lazy attitude toward the railroad. It remained primarily dependent on the river for its livelihood. While the town worked on the docks, other towns completed the Texas and
Pacific Railroad from Texarkana to Marshall, bypassing Jefferson. Soon trains replaced riverboats, and Dallas replaced Jefferson as the business center of North Texas. Jefferson missed its opportunity to survive by clinging to its proven
method of business.
Dependence on one way of doing business turned Jefferson into a town caught in time -- old buildings people visit to get away from modern life or to celebrate the past. Jefferson was for me a museum to missed opportunity.
The church in America today faces similar challenges and opportunities of a changing world in which to do its business of making disciples of Jesus. Like the people of Jefferson, church members and leaders must decide how they will respond to
the new realities facing them.
Abridged from Paul on Leadership by C. Gene Wilkes, pages 7-8.
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