Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Gideon Needed Less to Do More

The day we find the perfect church, it becomes imperfect the moment we join it. ~Charles H. Spurgeon




Some people--most probably--think that a successful church is one that is large with many Sunday School classes and ministries. Probably most people think a successful church is one whose membership is growing. Probably most people pick a church that is to their liking.

Just within a tenth of a mile to my own church is a mega church in the making that started with just ninety people when we moved here in 1997, but now has a membership of 4,000. I visited that church at around 2,000 members over eleven years ago when they were still meeting in a local school's gymnasium with no air conditioning. Being pregnant at the time, I became quite ill during the service because of the heat, but before that I was disappointed by some of the things I saw and experienced: CDs of the praise group being sold in the foyer, greeters having no idea if you were new or a regular member, too much staging and scheduling to allow for the Holy Spirit during the service, etc. Now they have a huge building and hire deputies to control traffic every Sunday after their service.

Mega churches have so much to offer and I appreciate that some people love them. I saw another one that actually had a workout room with machines and weights, but it required a fee membership to enter that room--in a church building? They had a professional cafeteria and an intimate room with a coffee cafe atmosphere complete with small high tables and chairs and laptop areas! They had two rooms just for weddings, one each for the bride and groom. There was a gymnasium, of course. This church is basically a Christian community recreational facility!

Some people want such churches. Members would probably justify every single room and claim that the greater number of people coming because of what it offers means that the church can do more to support more ministries inside and outside. Still, I cannot help but question if these amenities are really necessary. Western Christians are competing for the hearts and souls of children with today's education and technology, but do we really need to go this far? It seems to me that members have so much to do within the church that they can excuse themselves from interacting with unbelievers and witnessing to the unsaved. Yet, these mega churches now seem to be the status symbol of successful Christianity.

Next to such churches, mine is just plain and small...practically insignificant and barely surviving on so little.

Still, I keep thinking of Gideon. The bigger and the more armed and the more motivated and trained the army is the more likely it will be successful in defeating its enemy. It is logical, yet God can defy logic in such powerful ways. He did not only give Gideon victory, but He did so after depleting his willing army to so few that it seemed impossible they could survive but a few minutes of fighting. In retrospect, God's battle plan seemed to be logical and brilliant, but if His Hand had not been in it, there could have been a number of things that could have gone wrong and Gideon's small army could have been slaughtered. When God says the battle is won before it begins, even against the greatest of odds, then the faithful only need to obey Him.

In the last two years, my church has downsized to just six couples (one ill spouse stays home), two families, and two roommates, that is, nineteen regularly attending members with the two children, including the pastor and his wife. We had been holding at that number...until recently. The two roommates resigned their offices and ministries and quit coming suddenly. There was no explanation and they would not return calls and other forms of inquiry for a few weeks. One finally agreed to have lunch with another member and from what I have been told third hand, both women were very frustrated and basically just gave up on our church.

Was God leading them according to His will? Are they in a ministry where He wants them now or are they running away due to their frustration and lack of patience with the Lord's timing or just the other members? I have left churches before, but not just because I felt frustrated. I would never go to any church for long if that were the case. Each church has its strengths and weaknesses, its praises and its frustrations. I usually have felt a leading to leave and it had to be strong because I am highly loyal, even to the point of my own detriment.

The way they left, without word and not returning calls suggested to me that their decision was not God led, for if it were what would there be to hide? We would be sad but rejoice that the Lord made His will known and they were obeying. Who can be against expanding the ministry of the Lord according to His will by their parting?

They probably have had expectations that were not met. One had tried something that she hoped would attract people to our church: Manna Sunday. The membership would contribute money and after two morning services a month we would have "catered" lunches, rather than potlucks, followed by games that would be free to all visitors. We had one man with his two young sons come on the second Manna Sunday and for a few weeks thereafter, but his wife is Catholic and had issues with the idea of a Protestant church, so he stopped coming. Manna Sundays were also diminishing the ability to have dinners for raising money for the women's ministry as we did once a month previously, so we cut Manna Sunday to once a month. Obviously, the response was disappointing but apparently so was the number of volunteers to host it. I did say that we had only fifteen adults excluding the pastor and his wife, but what I did not say was that at least three men and the very roommate that thought up Manna Sunday have traveling jobs and, being the wife of one of these men with traveling jobs, I can knowingly say that it is very difficult for us and most likely the others to make such commitments in advance.

I suppose it all would be disheartening if the goal is to make the church grow and there was a time it frustrated me also, but I was given a vision about our church nearly two years ago and I am not discouraged. I do not have any idea how our church will grow, when it will, or even if it will, although I believe the vision suggested it will. However, I do know that my husband has witnessed to many people in his travels and it is likely the other ones traveling do as well. Our ministry at this season is not conducive to building our church, but maybe very effective at building God's church. I just believe I am not to be concerned about the numbers or the money right now in our little church.

I have been frustrated about the situation within my church at times, though I have not felt a calling to leave this church. I could see this loss of two women, who were very gifted in leading the singing, as disheartening; I probably should see it that way and I will miss them, but such things are my Lord's realm. The loss of just two people is going to financially be a problem with two people in our church being jobless right now as well, but maybe we need to see that less is more and making do with what we have is preparation for greater things.

Gideon...God sent home thousands prepared to do battle so that He would be glorified by an obedient few who did not loose heart because they were little in number. I am not disheartened because I still believe, against all evidence, that God has a plan and we only need to be faithful, willing, and obedient.

~ My Lord, the church is yours. Make us into Your obedient and willing disciples. ~

2 comments:

  1. It pays to be a big picture thinker in these situations. I am pretty happy where we are at present. It is larger than I would choose ~ more charismatic than I like ~ but it is where the Lord has lead & so....It is not about denominations; it never was. As the end rushes towards us it's more & more about plucking souls from the very jaws of Hell ~ or it should be.

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    1. I tend to think expectations are our undoing, particularly with churches. We want to be content with our church, but I think that not being so is what challenges us to make it better. The problem comes when our expectations are placed on other people rather than just ourselves.

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Thank you fellow travelers for walking and talking with me along this journey.