One of the great privileges of my position as a pastor is that it affords me the opportunity to sit with people and hear them tell their stories. Ironically, many times people don’t even realize that they have anything of great interest to share. I must tell you; they are usually very wrong about that.
God’s Hand of Providence can be seen guiding so many things, working out our frustrations and adversities for our long-term benefit. The wisdom that comes from the refining process shines all the brighter when it is viewed against the backdrop of the struggles of this life… And we all have our struggles.
One such conversation came recently when I was sitting with a former high school athletic director, and we were discussing the differences between a successful athletic season and strong athletic program. According to my friend, a successful season is one where a team wins big, but a strong program is needed for the team to continue winning long term.
Too often people have such short-term goals that as long as they win today, they are happy. Short-sighted coaches will run a program with that same mentality, but even though it might work at first, in the long run, the program will suffer. Thus, a smart coach needs to approach their work with patience and thoughtfulness, working with and listening to and understanding the community’s expectations and values, while sharing with them their own passion and vision. It is only after there is an investment from the community, the parents, and the athletes into the coach and their vision; that a foundation will be established on which a strong program can be built. And it is only a strong program that can sustain success.
Over the course of my own life, I have seen this same dynamic play out in many churches. Pastors, and even Laypeople, who so desperately were looking for a “win” that they alienated the Community of Faith. Maybe it was an outreach or a building project, or some other thing that they were convinced would solve all the problems and make the church successful; but in every case, prioritizing the project over the people only ever resulted in heartbreak.
In the end, we are always thrust back on the reality that there is no formula, no secret sauce; that will allow us to circumvent God’s design. In Acts 2, after the initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Jesus’ Disciples in the upper room, we are told that…
…they devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the Apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47, ESV)
You see, before the LORD grew His church, His children had to be willing to embrace each other right where they were. This is made all the more clear with Luke’s use of the Greek word which is here translated “Fellowship”. Literally, this word means partnership. This first expression of the Messianic Jewish church was characterized by its adherence to the Word of God as taught by the Apostles and by a partnership with them for the sake of the LORD’s Kingdom.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote a small book called “Life Together”, in which he reflected on the lessons he learned as the leader of the confessing church in Germany during the years of Hitler’s National Socialist regime. One of the things he addresses is that true Christian Community cannot be created (i.e., programmed) it can only be received. When we choose to love each other, to listen to each other, to be partners with one another in God’s work; that is when we truly become a community. And it is then, when we are a true community, that we can experience sustainable growth.
I believe that here at Pine Run we are beginning to see this very thing happening in our midst. We pulled together to step out in Faith and bring me on fulltime. We pulled together to keep the property clean and maintained. We pulled together for the Soup sale, to raise money for our scholarship program. We are pulling together to raise money for a playground for our kids. Our evening study is growing, and discussions have started happening about how we can start doing some small group gatherings for prayer and Bible study.
These are not things that are arising from obligation. They are flowing out of the relationships we are already building here. Getting to this point has been a hard journey, but we got here… And we got here together. The winter was long, but spring is here, bringing blessings with it.
Grace and Peace,