To thrive means to flourish; to prosper.
It is the “progress toward” or the “realization of” a goal.
Thriving is an Invitation.
I don’t think of thriving as a command. I think of it as an invitation. Through God’s word, He has issued an open invitation for us to thrive.
The Bible is clear. Regardless of the external circumstances — pandemics, injustice, political turmoil, instability, chaos, financial hardship, sickness, and disease — we can thrive.
No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. Romans 8:37 NLT
Jesus loves us. He wants us to be close and intimate with Him. And because He dwells in a place of thriving, He invites us to join Him there as we thrive too!
Beloved, I pray that you may prosper (thrive) in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers (thrives.) 3 John 2
Thriving is a Choice.
Thriving is always a choice. At times, I don’t feel like thriving. I have to confess that there are moments when quitting seems easier. It is in those times of discouragement I realize that I need help from above. I call upon the spiritual might of the Lord.
For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ… 2 Corinthians 10:3-5
Thriving doesn’t mean that we have it all together. Thriving is a joyful, peaceful reliance upon the Holy Spirit. Thriving is a choice we make to overcome our feelings and win the battle of the mind. We choose to seek, to discover and to hear God’s Word, then confidently exercise our faith by confessing and walking in the reality of it.
Thriving Begins on the Inside.
You must first thrive on the inside before you can flourish on the outside. When you are right with God and in right standing with others, there is a corresponding grace that brings peace and joy to your heart. It’s not something that you can manufacture. It is something that shines through your countenance.
…for the Kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Romans 14:17
So, how’s your countenance? Are you right with God? Are you at peace? Are you experiencing the joy of the Lord? If not, you have an invitation to thrive!
Thriving is Better Caught Than Taught.
If you think about it, most of us learn to thrive through observation. We see and experience the resolve, the mindset, and the vision of those who have gone before us. Authentic righteousness, peace, and joy are really hard to fake, because associated with these is an anointing from God.
Craig Groeschel wrote a book titled, “It.” His book describes the powerful life-changing force that draws you into the presence of God. When “it” is present you feel it, you see it, and you experience it. Thriving is the same way. When you’re around people who are thriving, you see and feel the favor they experience, and that favor makes you want to be closer to God.
…they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:46-47
Thriving Can Become a Culture.
When you thrive personally, a culture is created around you where others can thrive too.
During times of adversity and hardship people are watching how we live more than what we say. Hardship exposes the deficits of our character—not to destroy us, but to allow Christlikeness to be formed in us.
When we choose to turn from our self-reliance and put our trust in Jesus, we open the door for The Holy Spirit to work in our hearts. Putting our trust in the Lord creates an opportunity for those around us to begin to thrive as well.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6
You Can Thrive.
You have an invitation to draw near to Him. He promises if you will draw near to Him, then He will draw near to you. Embrace the opportunity you have today and take the first step with a fresh resolve to thrive. As you thrive, you will find the never-ending joy of living your life in such a way that it counts for eternity!
“We live by faith, not by sight.” 2 Cor.4:7 NIV
Faith is the Holy Grail of our walk with God. We walk by faith!
Faith is also the well-worn ground of our faith-full leader Ps Phil.
The wisdom of faith is faith’s practical, essential, application in life.
Faith without wisdom is simply foolishness! Don’t I know this first hand.
Do I encounter the WORD or does the WORD encounter me? I read it daily and find that something surprising can happen. It’s like time bends in these moments. The eternal steps into the temporal. I will be reading the word when suddenly it’s reading me. It’s like faith comes knock-knock-knocking on heavens door.
Scripture says, “Faith comes by hearing”. How does that happen exactly? “Am I even listening or just reading.” I find it annoying when I read, “He who has ears let him hear.” If you have ears what exactly could be stopping them from hearing anyway? It’s in these moments that I try to stop, listen, reflect, meditate… and slowly I begin to see with eyes of faith. Why? Because the eyes of my heart start to see.
Physical eyes connect to our brains. The fact is, we also have eyes that connect and translate the beliefs of our hearts.
I wrongly assumed the scripture, “We walk by faith not by sight,” meant that faith was blind. It turns out, biblical faith isn’t. It sees perfectly when our spiritual eyes are opened. How else can we, “fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporal but what is unseen is eternal,” (2 Cor. 4:18) unless this is referring to some other eyes? When Jesus said he came to “restore sight” was this purely physical? Hmmm, let me think about that…
Definitions are extremely important to me. Here’s why: because we have the naive tendency to think that because we speak the same language, use the same words, we must share the same definitions… right? I find that this is almost never true.
It is even more rarely true when discussing the scriptures. Once we assume a specific definition, each time the word is used it evokes specific thoughts, emotions, perceptions, and concepts.
Hebrews 11:1 had been my definition of faith in the past. Now I see it as a description of faith.
Hebrews 11:3 has become my definition of faith. Because without the understanding of faith there will be no practical application of faith. 11:3 says, “By faith we understand….”
- Wisdom for me is the practical application of truth.
- Understanding for me is the coherent joining together of concepts, principles, or knowledge.
- Knowledge is simply information. Knowledge without wisdom is simply arrogance.
The Wisdom of faith in the life of the Father of faith. “..Who gives life to the dead and calls which did not exist as though they did.” Ro. 4:17 WOW! He is seeing and saying stuff about an entirely different dimension. If Abraham can do it so can we. Me. Us. You.
I see two unmovable pillars that the wisdom of faith rests on: creation and identity.
If you don’t believe in the biblical account of creation or the one whose image you bear, you will find that faith is only hope, never a reality. This was the turning point for me.
You will notice a lot of songs being written about hope that sound like faith. “I see breakthrough is coming,” is a hope statement, not faith (by my definition anyway). Faith would say, “I have already broken through,” a current reality based on eternal truth; seeing and staying aligned with the truth that has already been revealed.
Faith is synonymous with trust. Words are only as trustworthy as the one who spoke them.
Faith establishes trust in the goodness of God. I think there is only one reason people don’t trust God, and that is because they don’t know Him. Some are afraid of Him. Some think He is angry. No one trusts someone they are afraid of.
Faith is not to get things from God; it’s to establish His image in my life. To use faith to get things is a perversion because it assumes he is withholding something. Faith is always now. Hope is future. Faith is the current reality of something good. I have often confused faith with hope. Hope is a precursor of faith.
Before God spoke creation into being He had intention. He was motivated by love and speaking what he saw.
You and I, now in the image of God, function exactly the same.
We can call things which do not yet exist physically as though they are – by faith that has experienced truth and now speaks out because it sees the invisible.
He never just spoke out generally. He was specific and deliberate. Every word had intention, forethought, logic, love that focused on the end.
To be clear, we don’t put faith in faith, but our faith is in the nature and goodness of God.
I try to pay close attention to motive. Biblical faith has intention and motive before speaking. It comes from somewhere.
Galatians 5:6 says, “Faith works by love,” in the KJV. The NLT says, “What is important is faith expressing itself in love”. I cannot express what I have not experienced. You will find you can’t trust someone beyond the love they hold for you. Faith works by love! Love that is unexpressed is useless. So faith without corresponding actions is useless. “Faith without works is dead.”
If you read Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the evidence of things not seen,” you reach the illogical conclusion that faith is blind. An erratic leap into the unknown.
Hebrews 11:3, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, that what we see now did not come from anything that can be seen”. There you have it! What we see didn’t come from what was seen, not from what didn’t exist, not from what was not real. Only what was not seen with physical eyes… yet.
The outcome of our words is first conceived in our hearts before they are spoken.
They express the evidence of things not seen…(yet)! We only believe what we have the most evidence for. Faith needs evidence. Faith is never believing without evidence – that’s superstition. Trust based on intellectual persuasion can be changed by another compelling idea. This is not faith in God, it is faith in self.
When asked how I deal with a crisis of faith, I reply “Faith has never had a crisis!” Faith sustains us through a crisis! Don’t you love Hebrews 11:27b, “Moses kept right on going (faith is unstoppable, it keeps you moving) because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible.” WHAT??? How do you see the one who is invisible? With eyes of faith.
Faith sees better than ever and allows us to live today as though our future has arrived. It’s a prophetic memory. Faith overcomes the consequences of life and the chaotic cultures of our day. Faith is not trusting what God will do, it’s trusting who He is. It is not convincing ourselves that a promise is mine but trusting the One who made the promise.
The Wisdom of Faith agrees with the finished work of Christ along with every promise purchased on the cross.
In Christ, I am a partaker in His inheritance for me. Every promise is “Yes” & “Amen” now.
Faith is being certain, fully persuaded in the character and nature of God. Faith is deep assurance in His goodness, perceives Him clearly, sees the future confidently while recognizing and trusting His good promises. Our faith is built by discovering how faithful God is to His word and hearing that in our hearts.
No man can change Him. He never changes. We do.
1 John 5:4b in the NIV says, “This is the victory that has overcome the world even our faith.”
‘They will know you are my disciples by the love you have one for another’ (John 13:35).
When Jesus called the first disciples to follow him, it was in the context of relationship. Jesus, in commissioning us to make disciples (Matt 28:19), is commissioning us to be building community: the church.
But what is the best model for establishing a new church?
The revelation of Christ is the foundation of all church planting – ‘by wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established’ (Proverbs 24:3).
When I think “how-to” or which is the best model to apply, I think R.E.S.T
- Reason: what we can examine, study and test intellectually
- Experience: what we can feel and emotionally sense
- Scripture: what is revealed in the word of God, both descriptively and prescriptively
- Tradition: what has worked before and what the Lord has used previously
Scripture is not the only source of understanding and wise judgment, but it ought to be the non-negotiable plumb line.
We understand “not all trees in the forest are the same height but every tree is important.” We understand that a dynamic, diverse, and supportive ecosystem needs less artificial fertilizers than a single monoculture limited in genetic strength. Therefore, the diversity of models is not only to be expected but encouraged and celebrated.
Our personal experiences teach us that no “one size fits all.”
There were culturally homogeneous churches, such as the church in Jerusalem and Corinth, and there were diverse cultural churches like Ephesus. There were small churches – the church in Colossae had no more than 50, in Philippi under 150, in Ephesus many thousands – yet every church was important and given great attention from leaders like Paul.
There have been great churches of all sizes big and small. Throughout history, the predominant church size has been approximately 100 members. We plan for the norm, adjust for the exception, and celebrate all.
Learnings from C3
Mark Kelsey at Presence Conference in 2019 outlined a description of types of churches in C3. His list included urban, suburban, regional, churches in remote regions, churches in developing countries, and churches in regions of persecution. All with the same C3 culture but with various approaches.
The following are some approaches we have used (the headings are for description only):
The hub church
A team of pastors travels between 3 to 5 churches of up to 70. C3 Reach Bangladesh churches use this approach. We identify an evangelist, a pastor, and a manager. The evangelist goes into a new area followed by the pastor, then the manager coordinates all the hubs.
The reverse church
This approach is used in locations where believers are persecuted and the safest place to worship & teach is in homes. This can lead to isolation and a lack of accountability. We reserve the order in the west where we worship and teach in larger groups and fellowship in homes. The larger gathering is for fellowship and socializing only and the smaller groups are for teaching and worship. C3 Reach Egypt uses this approach.
The satellite hub
Establish one large central church and create smaller satellite churches each 1 to 5 hours away from the central church. Each satellite church has a pastor and a core team, and they visit once a month. C3 Reach Kazakhstan uses this model.
The home church network
In extremely dangerous situations, the only possibility is to have churches under 30 that meet in homes. Once every month, the pastors of the home church gather either online or in person.
Eight things that are present in the gatherings of all the models are:
- Intentional prayer and worship
- Preaching/teaching the word
- Community Evangelistic activities – including practical acts of service
- Development of the leader and monthly reporting to the supervisor
- Regular social activities
- Intentional focused development of ‘next leaders of the next plant’
- Intentional connection to other C3 churches
Defining the “how to do”
Rather than starting with a pre-set model, we start with a process of formational questions:
- “What are the broader cultural values in the context we are planting?”
- “What is the outcome we want?”
- “What do we need to do to achieve this outcome?”
- “What will it look like if we do the things we need to do?
If you are interested in the material we use, you can contact us at c3churchryde.com.au.
Effective delivery of the gospel requires integration between form (what is seen), function (what we do), and feeling (what we desire others to experience).
Ultimately our perfect model is Jesus and our methods focus on how we can be Spirit-powered and connect-driven in the specific cultural context.
Daniel, of Jewish royalty, was exiled to and raised in Babylon, and chosen to be schooled in its language and literature. In other words, Daniel was steeped in Babylonian culture: he was adept at their cultural, moral, and philosophical structures, which, at points were anathema to his monotheistic heritage.
Early on in his education, he forced a point of difference, and in so doing proved the wisdom, the observable difference of his separation, when he refused the rich fare from the king’s table. He was applauded for this.
Later he came into life-threatening conflict with the powers when refusing to obey the King’s edict concerning to whom one could pray. His disobedience was almost the occasion of his demise. He was thrown to the lions for this.
Admired and despised, loved, and hated.
And yet, remarkably, he out-lasted the suzerainty of four Kings.
Daniel is a remarkable example of being culturally aufait and counter-cultural.
He understood and utilized the culture, but he was not captive to it.
Where needed he faced into the raging wind of Babylonian power, and where required he worked within it.
Social media is a tsunami of facts, opinions, misinformation, vitriol, and accusation without defense. It assumes to be judge, jury, and executioner. Its damage ranges from being a nuisance to a cause of suicide. Any appeal to impartiality is a lost cause, as Facebook is currently discovering with massive losses of advertising revenue over its seeming inability to cull hate-speech invective.
On the other hand, social media can be social – it can be used to inform, entertain, and delight. It depends on who wields the s/word or the pict/ure. And as with any tool, it quickly loses its neutrality in the hands of the aggrieved, the thoughtless, and the malcontent.
But for many, it is a way to keep in touch, to foster connections. Fun and beauty can be mediated by social media, along with thoughtfulness, kindness, and truth.
This is all obvious though – nothing new here.
Of greater concern is not its use, but that it may be using us. We need the dexterity of Daniel in being able to weave our way between employing and being employed by, between mastering and being mastered by.
The easy option is to simply condemn it – avoid at all costs. But this is problematic, as it is a tool that, wielded correctly, has positive benefits – even in our Babylon. Daniel didn’t fail to employ his knowledge of the “language and literature” of Babylon with acuity. Much of his task was a human/creational endeavor as much as a Babylonian/fallen perspective. Administration of a kingdom is still administration; of itself, the administration is a noble task.
But where Babylon defied Jerusalem, Daniel was no longer carried along with the tide. At a great personal cost, he swam upstream. He would not become the mindless pawn of the powers that demand fawning obsequiousness. His failure to bow was their opportunity to crucify him, but his resolution shut the mouths of lions.
Vortexes of opinion agitate and swirl around social media. We must take care we don’t become a repeating station of ill-informed and spiteful words.
Jesus can be proclaimed on social media, but Jesus can as easily be defamed on social media. How? By God’s people reacting, retweeting, entering slanging matches, picking up on point-proving diatribe, all of which does little to advance the kingdom of God and the cause of Christ’s love. Not for no reason did Jesus teach in the Lord’s prayer – “Hallowed be your name,” or make your name holy in your people, juxtaposed to God’s people bringing into ill repute to his holy name.
Daniel got it right.
Normally when we think of going the distance, we cite the usual suspects: prayer, scripture, the moral life, and others. And they are correct to cite, but not correct enough, because they all depend on self-discipline.
Self-discipline is good in itself, but focusing on these “usual suspects” individualises the faith, and diminishes the value of the community of God’s church. It’s in community where we gain longevity, because it’s in community that Christ is more fully realised, known and expressed than in private. Together we are not only better, but we are God’s people, and his church.
The Usual Suspects
Prayer is axiomatic (taken for granted) to sustain vitality and viability in relationship with God. Prayer needs to be regular and employing the various tools of prayer: private, public, using Psalms, NT prayers of Ephesians and Colossians, the Lord’s Prayer (where “I” and “me” are not mentioned once), speaking in known and unknown tongues, etc.
Jesus invited private prayer, but not to the exclusion of public/gathered prayer.
He was teaching us to see reward in relationship, and not in public accolade for long winded fancy prayers. The early church practised both – but we read more of gathered prayer rather than private prayer, although we can take private prayer for granted. You won’t go the distance without prayer. And it is one of the first things to suffer when ‘moral/ethical dissonance’ creep in.
A love for God’s word is vital. A private devotion to and immersion in God’s word is a lifeline; food for our true hunger. No other book compares.
A consistent practise of reading, studying and meditating on God’s word is the only thing that actually challenges and changes the church (as it is preached).
Food not sermon material. We aren’t meant to be merely good orators, communicators, relevant and appealing. Hitler was all those things, so are most dictators and heretics. What we preach/minister matters more than the delivery platform. Only reading/listening to what others have discovered is to rob ourselves.
The church was formulated by the apostle’s teaching – it was something they did together – not apart. “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
More was discovered and regulated by doing the process together. We always, and thereby erroneously, read this as the solo practise of prayer and scripture. It wasn’t.
This is vital as well for longevity. Some have forgotten this and incurred much pain and loss. Much of Paul’s instruction whilst starting in theology ends in application for lifestyle. Love will always show itself in moral and ethical apparel. Grace is a deterrent from sin, not a way around it, nor a minimisation of it. Your morality matters, your ethics matter.
These are private matters, but they have public impact.
And time isn’t enough to mention more of the usual suspects: generosity, witness, etc… These all matter, as personal commitments, but they don’t and can’t matter enough.
What we have individualised:
Baptism is not a private matter. Baptism is not just baptism into Christ’s death, as personal benefit (although it certainly includes this). It is also and equally baptism into Christ’s church – the new saving community (which is why it is so serious for people like Hindus and Muslims coming to faith is Jesus, as baptism disavows their community).
The Lords Supper
This is not meant to merely be a personal reflection of Christ’s death and its application to your present circumstance in the private domain of your heart. It is firstly a community celebration (an actual meal), that has saving significance and proclaims the Lords death until he comes again.
An inconvenient truth
Longevity in the faith and ministry has as much to do with who are your people, your community, as it does with a private devotion.
My salvation has as much to do with God’s church as it does with my individual commitment. I’m simply not that good, but God’s church is. My salvation depends as much on my community as it does on my personal commitment.
We grow as we connect, as we stay connected. We wither as we disconnect.
Side note, here’s how you disconnect: you get offended and fail to forgive. Going to another church won’t change a thing – it will only delay the inevitable. Repentance, forgiveness, love – the Jesus stuff. I don’t stay in God’s church, in community, because I like everyone or what everyone does or says – I stay in because I won’t make it otherwise (and I’m hardly dumb, uncommitted or undisciplined).
The church is the “saving community.” You aren’t a saving community. It is both pride and bad theology to suggest we all stand alone. Our Reformation reaction has cost us.
Church is a community that meets – not meetings that add community as an after-thought.
Salvation takes on many aspects in God’s church. As an example, the apostle John states, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” Light, community, cleansing. Together, not alone.
This is the reason I’m still in Christ, in his church, in community – because it isn’t up to me. I worry about those who disconnect and say absurd, unbiblical things, such as, “I have a personal, private walk with Jesus.” You may do, but it isn’t the Jesus of scripture, tradition or history they appeal to. All the very best with that.
Longevity is found in community.
One thing is for certain: God’s people are praying more – more often, more intensely, more urgently, with more faith and less self-interest than usual – none of which will harm us.
As to why this pandemic has spread with such virulence, I have no idea. Whether it is the outcome of cross species contamination or a lab leak, I speak with no authority. Beyond this, we speculate.
Apportioning blame is something for Governments, not God’s church. We are the antidote, not the accusation.
What can we pray?
There is no better place to start than the Lord’s prayer, which currently makes more sense prayed in community than in the closet. It is a prayer that glorifies our Father, a prayer that invites the uniting of “things in heaven and things on earth,” and a prayer that situates us with our daily needs being met, forgiveness being extended to us and from us, testing with limitations, and deliverance from evil.
This prayer has an ‘eschatological horizon’ realised in the resurrection of Jesus and the inauguration of God’s kingdom – as in heaven, so on earth. We are invited into much more than just anticipating a nice time here, as up there. Kingdom will here, on earth, in your city, your community, your family, as it is in heaven! We are praying with prophetic boldness the realisation of the will of the one who is far above all power and authority, be it human, angelic or demonic.
1 Timothy 2:1-4
We might also pray what Paul writes to his understudy, Timothy, urging him in the right direction to use all manner of prayer for all people, “for kings and all who are in high positions,” with the purpose that we, God’s people, may live in peace with quiet dignity, resulting in people coming to salvation in Christ. Whatever we pray for our governments, with whatever political preferences we adhere to, the point of this prayer is not that our Prime Ministers, or Presidents, become Christians, but that we, the church, can lead a quiet and dignified life so that the Lordship of Christ might be experienced in salvation.
Nothing wrong with praying for the saving power of Christ to be extended to our Government leaders, but this prayer isn’t about that – it is about a different sort of governing; it is about a governing, a lordship, that isn’t compromised by “the principalities and powers” of this “present evil age.” It is about peace for the sake of the church, his body.
This isn’t how this prayer is normally comprehended, but it is what it was written for, if a plain reading is allowed.
Praying these prayers in lockdown is a good place to start. Who knows where it might lead as the Holy Spirit prays through us, with prayers beyond our finitude, in intercessional groanings?
On Earth as it is in Heaven.
A crisis is what it is: a time of intense difficulty and danger. And this is never nice or a good thing. As COVID-19 wreaks havoc on health, finances and overall wellbeing, people have been talking about a big “re-set” and taking time to refocus on the things that matter. I like these ideas, but with a future that seems uncertain, with the swirl of bad news, losses and death, it’s hard, on a day-to-day basis, to look on the bright side, to make the most of a bad situation, no matter how positive or faith-filled you might be.
When this is over, we’ll all look back and see the places of shelter in the storm, but right now that might be difficult, and as far as I’m concerned that’s ok.
Here’s what I am finding though, and for my part I am making every effort I can to use this time for this purpose: sharing the good news of what Christ has done for me – and all humanity. People are worried and scared, and they need, more than ever, a saviour.
The brightest, the boldest, the best are all in it together. No one, in over 48 countries (and counting), is exempt. This is happening to 1.5 billion of us. We are in lockdown, the things we’ve always taken for granted, a casual trip to the grocery store for something as ordinary as milk, has become a complicated chore. Never mind the poor and disadvantaged in our cities, the ones that have always had it hard. For them, sadly, it’s even harder now, in some cases fatally so.
Right now, I am doing all I can to share the love of Jesus. There are open doors all around, people we work with, family members that have never taken kindly to our faith, neighbours we’ve wanted to chat to about Jesus but were afraid it would ruin the delicate fabric of our social structure. This is the time. If there ever was a good time, this would be it. And you don’t have to hit them over the head with the Bible, all you have to do is offer to pray for them when they’re feeling down, maybe share a scripture, or how your faith in Jesus is giving you strength.
The door is open, we just have to ask permission to walk through it, and very few people are saying no.
I’ve had so many opportunities to share, and there have been moments where I’ve thought, “Oh, I don’t know, maybe later.” There might never be another time. For me THIS is the time to share the love we live in with those who need it so, so much. I’ve read Psalm 91 over co-workers, prayed for someone who had their team furloughed, explained that this week I was ruminating over the fact that Jesus forgave my SIN even though I continue to sin, and how that helps me feel safe and free while making me want to do better.
If you’re reading this post my biggest hope is that you will step outside of your comfort zone during this crisis and make the effort, no matter how uncomfortable, to share Jesus with those around you.
If you’re leading a church, encourage your people in this great opportunity. With all the bad news being communicated all day long, people are more open than ever to hearing some good news. And guess what – we’ve got it. Don’t be afraid, don’t wait for later, let’s share it – now.
For 21 years I was a paramedic.
I’d put on the uniform, get in the road ambulance or medical helicopter, and respond to emergency calls for help, ranging from the most minor of falls to the most unspeakable of disasters. And despite extensive on-going training, and exposure to almost any situation you could conjure in your mind, that sense of heading to the scene and feeling unprepared for what lay ahead never went away.
As we journey through this global pandemic, the feeling of being unprepared as a pastor is very real and is very present.
From providing counselling sessions via Zoom, to preaching in empty halls or even your own living rooms, to passing worship teams in the hallway of make-shift recording studios at acceptable distances . . . pastors have suddenly found themselves positioned on the very frontline of a community that is crying out for help, and doing it without some of the tools of the trade we’ve used for so long.
In 1 Kings 17, we read where Elijah responds to a call from God, sent to help a widow in the village of Zarephath. The call is firm, yet also vague and unusual. In a time of drought, Elijah is to ask a widow to feed him: counter-cultural for the times, and counter-cultural for a minister of God.
As a paramedic working on the frontline, I rarely received clarity in the initial call for help. In fact, often the information received added more confusion, building up that feeling that I was unprepared for what I was about to step into.
Elijah does exactly what God tells him to do, and then is thrust into a situation that he neither asked for nor had the natural skills to deal with. The widow’s son would get sick, very sick, and we read in v17, “he grew worse and worse, and finally he died.” Elijah was not a doctor, a nurse or a paramedic; in fact I’m not sure he expected to be thrust onto the frontline of this kind of crisis. Yet here he was – faced with the dead son of a widow. In a desperate call to God, Elijah cries out to save the boy’s life, and God moves. The boy is raised back to life, as God responds to Elijah’s obedience and faith, even though he was unprepared on the frontline of a crisis.
You may not have signed up to be pastoring on the front line of a global pandemic, yet God chose you, and will use your obedience as healing for His people.
Elijah didn’t have the skills or training to deal with his situation either, but he responded to the call, and he had faith in God.
On so many occasions, I would fly into a situation feeling unsure of what to do next… but I knew then, and I know now, that God is on the throne, and He is always in control.
We find ourselves living in days of rapid acceleration on many fronts. There is an acceleration of change and uncertainty within the world. Yet there’s also an acceleration of opportunity for believers.
The Kingdom of God never stands still, so we need to be prepared for an acceleration as we enter this season of harvest.
The way we disciple new believers during this season may also need to accelerate, leaning more towards a ‘hands on, learn as you work’ approach, driven by the urgency of the harvest at hand. We see this model of ‘hands-on’ discipleship during a harvest, within the book of Ruth.
We meet the recently bereaved Naomi, who has been living away from God’s people in enemy territory for years. She hears a report that ‘the Lord has given His people a good harvest.’ Good news – God has turned up in a big way, and is moving unmistakably! Stuff is happening, both blessing & harvest! Naomi wanted in, so she made the very significant move to position herself with God’s people, in God’s harvest field.
This prodigal brought along a ‘plus one’ – her pagan, Moabite daughter in law, Ruth.
I believe this is a prophetic picture of the last days harvest we’re entering into now. The prodigals will return. They’ll hear that God’s moving amongst His people, they’ll get a bad case of FOMO, and, not wanting to miss out, they’ll come home!
We need to get ready and make room for the ‘Naomis’, (the prodigals & backsliders) because they’re about to come home en-masse to God’s house, bringing their ‘Ruths’ (their unbelieving friends & family) with them.
Ruth declared her commitment to God in a vow, confessing faith in Naomi’s God. Their arrival back home coincides with the start of a bumper harvest, one they have not seen the like of for many years. Enter Boaz, a type/picture of Jesus. He is Lord of the harvest, owner of the whole field. Their place of meeting is significant – in the harvest field.
It is interesting to note that Boaz did not make Ruth jump through any hoops to prove her experience in reaping. He fully comprehended that she was a new believer, yet he let her have a go at harvesting! He didn’t make her get a theology degree first. Neither did he require her to firstly attain a semblance of maturity, or at least be saved for 5 years!
He simply encouraged Ruth to do her part and serve.
He instructed her to follow his workers, then let her loose in the harvest field. She learned about the Lord as she worked alongside His people in the field. Ruth was simultaneously discipled as she served. She didn’t learn about God in a class, she was immediately mobilised to work. Ruth learned by doing, by working alongside Boaz and his workers.
Today also, we are all called to make disciples – to mobilise God’s people, even new believers, and not to hinder them.
There is no hierarchy here. We’re all just workers in Jesus’ harvest field.
The need to release as many workers as we can into the harvest field now, is an urgent one. These new believers need not be sidelined by Christian bureaucracy of lengthy theory lessons within discipleship classes; they can simply be discipled as they serve alongside us in Jesus’ harvest field.
He needs them.
Luke 10:2 (Jesus) ‘The fields are ripe but the labourers are few. Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into the harvest field.’
Are there lessons that lockdown could teach us, because every new situation has the potential to speak to us. But it may be premature to speak of lessons, because, if the present situation resolves sooner than is expected I conject we will have learnt little. It will be business as usual, with an inconvenient hiatus – for most of us. To some, my inconvenience has been for them an occasion of great loss.
I suspect this lockdown will last longer than we’d wish. And time itself may be the only thing that effects actual change.
Of course, the temptation to pontificate will prove more than some can resist. We will hear every hue of prophetic pronunciation and denunciation. Some of them will be insightful, some will be bizarre, and others inconsequential (much to the chagrin of those would-be prophets).
Lessons may be a way off yet, but not observations. For instance, churches that are tech savvy have responded quickly, and in many cases very effectively. Some had already shown prescience doing online services. They have sophisticated systems that adapt to numerous platforms to keep connections alive among the church community. Many of these have resources to continue in high quality productions featuring worship and preaching. A normal Sunday, except online. But is this optimal? We may need to wind the clock back before we can answer this.
Until the time of the Reformation, church community gatherings were largely ‘us and them.’ The focal view of churches was the sacramental table, administered by ‘them’ – the priest. He celebrated the host, dispensed the wafer, and proclaimed the gospel in sacramental terms, all in Latin. Essentially, he did our religion for us. He had to, we barely understood what he intoned.
With the upheaval of the Protestant Reformation, the focus of the churches, in time, became the pulpit from which the minister preached the gospel in the vernacular, expecting adherence to its truth.
The pulpit, if not front and central by location, was elevated above the congregation (for voice projection reasons, but also a point was being made), and central to the mission of the church. If you visit a Roman Catholic or a Protestant church today, you will still see this essential difference.
This heritage is deeply embedded in the life blood of our churches – Protestant, Pentecostal, Evangelical. Preaching is the high point of a service – the direction they are geared towards. I doubt this thought will raise an eyebrow.
But does this focus tend to obscure, or take out of focus, biblical patterns/paradigms that the scriptures present for church life? And, maybe we have an opportunity to refocus due to this pandemic?
It sounds as if this is already being done in many churches, where connection with community is, at very least, supplementing preaching. Of course, it is never going to be either or, nor should it be. It is both, but a balance is being redressed.
In our foundation texts Acts 2:42-47 describes the structure of the church after the day of Pentecost. Debate still exists as to whether these verses are prescriptive or descriptive. It is likely to be both, and may even bend towards prescriptive, as Luke is writing with specific purpose, including this part of the churches narrative in Acts to call his readers back to this pattern of church life. Even in his time of writing the church needed to remember.
Teaching is the mentioned, then fellowship, the lifestyle, followed by breaking of bread and prayers. Generosity to/amongst God’s people is also included in this list.
The picture is clear. Community contextualised everything.
Most of these elements were not temple based, as teaching may have been. They were connected to homes, meals and fellowship. Teaching is not minimised, but it doesn’t dominate – God’s people being together eating, praying and caring for each other does, even if for the purpose of hearing the apostle’s teaching.
In a further example the apostle John writing in I John 1:3 states that the purpose of his proclamation was so that those who heard would have fellowship with those that spoke. John didn’t preach to be merely heard; he preached to affect connection with his hearers and with himself, which in turn would be with the Father and the Son. This is a different purpose to preaching; it has shared community and shared experience as its end.
All to say, maybe in lockdown the observable trend of heightened community connection (so much more like the church Luke saw) is as important as preaching messages.
If Sunday online is no different than an ordinary Sunday, I suspect we may be out of focus. Why perpetuate a monolithic model, that fewer seem attracted to, and not use this time to ramp up and enjoy connections with your community – as well as, not instead of.
Some are forced to do this, simply because they have neither the technology nor the know-how to present professionally competent content. Others are choosing to add life giving community to content rich communication.
If the four or five fundamentals Luke presents in Acts 2 are about community then an overdeveloped emphasis on preaching pulls this picture out of focus.
Going back to our foray into history, in a reaction to a sacramental approach to church meetings preaching became the replacement. Even here it isn’t either or, but something has been left out of the picture; a picture Luke was at pains to ratify in Acts – the vital and sustaining role of community, a community that hears together, eats together, receives communion together, prays together, and cares for one another, together.
It appears ironic that we may now be doing this better online than we did offline. This is as incongruous as the pandemic is ubiquitous.