“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” -Henri Nouwen, Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life
There are common struggles shared among people who have chosen to go into church leadership. Ministry in the context of the church, in today’s context, is interesting because people can become so busy, disinterested, and over stimulated by production that their worship experience suffers because of their expectations.
New churches are being started all over the world, and this is a great thing, but many pastors and church leaders struggle to keep going because there is the obligation to constantly be on the cutting edge of creativity and technology. In some ways, this is great, because the Church should be the leader in innovation. In other ways, this can stifle progress when we make worship into something we try to get people to come to instead of training people to treat corporate worship as a collective out-pouring of love, support, and gratitude in response to a God who is all-powerful and good.
Unfortunately, church for many has become an elite club that focuses on recruiting instead of the power of the kingdom. Marketing has replaced getting into the lives of people one by one, and technology has pushed a desperate reliance on God’s provision aside. Now, instead of agonizing seasons of prayer to grow a church, we can spend a few hundred dollars on a great marketing campaign and get people in the doors. No suffering needed. Sure, people hear the message, but we need people to see the message too.
Now, before you think I am against churches that are heavy into these things, let’s be clear. There are so many congregations that are growing because they are able to combine attraction with authentic discipleship…it is the ones who rely on the former that, I believe, grieve the heart of God.
So, what types of things make churches grow? I don’t know if it is possible, today, to give a definitive list that is universal in every case, but I think it is easier to list the elements of the early Christian faith that spurred rapid transformation. What can we learn from the first Christians? What did they experience that served as a catalyst for their population explosion (in a spiritual sense)?
I think there are 5 things (among others) that grew the early Church.
- Selfless Dedication – When researching the behavior of early believers, you will find many instances in which these pioneers of the Gospel behaved in a manner that did not immediately benefit them. “They dedicated themselves to…” was the theme of their life, and they found that serving God meant serving people selflessly. The book of Acts shows us that their work consisted of feeding, healing, assisting, and giving.
- Unified Mission – When Jesus ascended to Heaven, there was an agonizing period of waiting as the disciples prayed and sought God’s next instruction. Their first mission was prayer and waiting, and when the Holy Spirit invaded their hearts, a compulsion for service, worship, and growth was added to their goals. Sure, they had disagreements among them, but they did not check each other’s political affiliation before going into spiritual battle together.
- Urgency of the Call – When the Holy Spirit took control of their lives; obedience was not a hobby that they participated in when they had time. All of their time, talents, and treasures were surrendered to God and His purposes. In today’s context, churches attract many people, but often the worship community becomes part of a series of hobbies that people do when there is time in their schedules. What would happen if God asked you to change your schedule for Him instead of finding a place for Him to fit? What if church was not the first thing to go when you felt overloaded?
- Emphasis on Connection – When this movement was young, people became grafted into a larger family. This family was one that was not based on genetics, but based on common goals, the need for care, and a desire to share love. It was an extended family that shared each other’s belongings, disciplined each other’s children, and tended to each other’s crops. Imagine if we were truly welded together as a family, instead of being associated with a place that “has a great Children’s program”. Connection and care means that programs are added bonuses and not the central means of ministry.
- Common suffering – These people had to be tightly knit in the context of community because they were all victims (or victors if you think about it) of abuse and systematic punishment. The government that controlled most of the world looked at these early Christians as rebels whose faith threatened the Roman lifestyle. This was certainly not intentional, but for every person that dropped what they were doing to follow Jesus was one more person that did not contribute to the common political machinery that was the Roman Empire. To them, this threatened peace. So, the Roman response included execution, exile, and slavery. Faith, however was too important to abandon.
My prayer is that we will see growth in the church today that mirrors the vibrancy of the early church. Not growth that is exactly the same (because God is making all things new) but one that will wake us up from a sleep that has been going on far too long.
Love you all.
We need to talk. I know it has only been a few hours since I sat down and had a time of prayer, but I can’t help but think you didn’t hear me. Why? I assume this, not because I think you don’t listen, but because of what and how I prayed. I was in a rush, and didn’t really approach you with the reverence and awe that I should feel. I just…talked. Not only this, but I lied in my prayer and said things I don’t believe. We need to talk because I need to point out the lies I told you in my last prayer. I just want to be honest even if it hurts your feelings. Let’s see…where do I begin?
First, I called you sovereign. Meaning, I implied that you are the ruler of my life. That was a big lie, because of the way I often live. I seem to rely on my own resources, ideas, and sufficiency to get me through the day, and I only seem to pray when I need something or I feel guilty. So, to claim you are my king is quite the overstatement.
Next, I told you I was grateful for all you have provided. The fact is, I am not really that grateful. I say that sometimes in hopes that you will “expand my territory” and fatten my bank account because of my perceived humilty. Truthfully, I want more, but I know if I say that out loud you will put me in humbling situations, so spiritually I try to lay low and avoid risks to stay under the radar. Overall, in this area, I really want a comfortable cushion of stuff and influence so I don’t have to worry about my future.
Also, I included those who are broken in my prayer, and really I didn’t care. In the back of my mind, I really just wanted you to fix my problems. This is where I rushed things. I skipped through this part, because there were other things I thought were more important that had to do with my needs. I included that other hurting person in the first place so I didn’t sound so selfish. If I were to be honest, I would tell you that I really just want you to stop my pain. I don’t want to go through suffering or anything difficult. I don’t want to be an example to others. I just don’t want to hurt.
Finally, the biggest lie I told was at the end of my last prayer. I told you that I wanted your will to be done in my life. I really don’t. I mean, I do, but as long as it fits in with my plans. It just feels better when things work out in my timing, and in my way.
You see, I have been learning more about this concept of “belief”. This is why I am writing. I have found out that I can cognitively agree with a concept, but if I do not live it then I don’t complete the cycle of belief…so it is as if I don’t believe it at all. In my mind, I believe all of these good things listed, but for some reason my life does not always reflect these concepts.
I guess I, now, understand the story in Mark chapter 9 when you cast an impure spirit out of the little boy. The boy’s father wondered if you could do it and you told him that anything is possible to those who believe. Then this man said something confusing. He said, “I believe; help me in my unbelief.” My first thought when reading this was, “you either believe or you don’t; pick one dude!” I get it now. I can agree in my mind, but if I am not talking, walking, and acting as if it is true than I have not fully believed it. Certainly, I know doubts will come, but I get that sometimes I just need to go forward in truth.
So, I confess that I have lied. I have always known you are sovereign; help me to overcome my lack of surrender. I have always been grateful; help me overcome my times of complaint. Also, help me be reminded of all you have provided, and miracles that you have performed. Help me to be a conduit of your compassion to the broken and hurting. I really do want your will to be done in my life and on earth as it is in Heaven. Move me aside daily and show your power.
Overall, sorry about the lies. I will try to do better. Thanks for the talk. Love you…seriously I do.
Your Willing Servant
But what you ask of earth? Earth, I think, will not be found by anyone to be in the end a very distinct place. I think earth, if chosen instead of Heaven, will turn out to have been, all along, only a region in Hell: and earth, if put second to Heaven, to have been from the beginning a part of Heaven itself.
“‘That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say ‘Let me have but this and I’ll take the consequences’: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say ‘We have never lived anywhere except Heaven,’ and the Lost, ‘We were always in Hell.’ And both will speak truly.’
‘Is that not very hard Sir?’
‘I mean, that is the real sense of what they will say. In the actual language of the Lost, the words will be different, no doubt. One will say he has always served his country right or wrong; and another that he has sacrificed everything to his Art; and some that they’ve never been taken in, and some that, thank God, they’ve always looked after Number One, and nearly all, that, at least they’ve been true to themselves.’
‘And the Saved?’
‘Ah, the Saved… what happens to them is best described as the opposite of a mirage. What seemed, when they entered it, to be the vale of misery turns out, when they look back, to have been a well; and where present experience saw only salt deserts, memory truthfully records that the pools were full of water.’” -Excerpt from C.S. Lewis’- The Great Divorce
This is the testimony of a woman at the church I pastor. It touched my heart and I want to share it….
TODAY FOR ME MARKS A NEW LIFE-I know I will see both ends of the spectrum of good days and bad days, but with God I will learn to treasure the simplicity and grace of middle ground! Honestly, it does not feel like my year right now but God has blessed me with an open mind-a mind that not too long ago was closed. The Lord is already at work behind the scenes, transforming my life! He is making me into the woman he had in mind when he created me. I am preparing to continually be at a crossroad with many choices in front of me. I know every day, many times a day, I will make decisions that determine the rest of my story. I can choose HEALING or RESENTMENT, FREEDOM or UNFORGIVENESS, LOVE or CLOSURE, JOY or DESPAIR! MY ROAD SPLITS HERE-choose the road of righteousness and live in the light, or choose the path of destruction and remain in the dark. God has chosen me to change and shape the legacy for my children and someday grandchildren. God is giving me strength to look fear in the eye see it clearly. I am afraid of REJECTION, FAILURE, INTENSE PAIN and SPEAKING MY DEEPEST TRUTHS. It has me trapped, it has taken away my power and controlled my mind, but God is one by one showing me my fears through battle scars I have accumulated over the years and through that he is giving me the courage and strength I need to step forward little by little towards complete healthy freedom!
A close friend gave me an analogy that brought it full circle for me—I boarded a plane a long time ago headed for paradise but each time it landed in paradise I chose to stay on the plane and circle back. I have been on that plane for years, just circling, never getting off—I have been choosing to stay where it’s comfortable-in darkness and despair! It’s time to see paradise and I’m choosing today to see God in that terminal-he is waiting for me to step off that plane—and CHOOSE TO WALK IN FAITH, DESPITE LIFE!