I am serving two rural churches, both in the midst of the same United Methodist turmoil. While individually they may be experiencing the same emotions, one church is collectively handling it better than the other. It may be that they are less plugged in to it all, but I think it is more so because they have a clear and exciting vision.
They have a building project, which was delayed by the winter weather, that will get underway any day. They have ideas for new ministries and they are excited to get moving forward. They are not leaning on the conference for support and have not needed to ask for financial support to this point. So, what the denomination does or doesn’t do, isn’t an immediate concern to their current ministry. They are being who they are and excited to live into the vision God has given them. They are trusting God to handle the denominational details.
Meanwhile, members of the other church have voiced concern around starting any kind of “new place for new people” or partnering in new ministries because they are uncertain about the future and uncertain about who people think they are because of the news. They didn’t have a far reaching vision in place before all this mess touched down, and now the mess is getting in the way of finding that vision. Does any of this sound familiar to you? Is your church also experiencing turmoil of some kind?
Before you get worked up thinking about it all again, take a couple slow deep breaths and open your Bible to Isaiah 54. Go ahead and read those 17 verses. I’ll wait…
Oh, there is SO much goodness, love, and promise in those verses! Though you were not already in labor with a new vision, the Lord will raise up new disciples among you! Do not fear! Take courage and expand your tents!
Whoa! Wait a minute! Don’t run to your pastor or your church council and say you need to start a building project. We are not talking bricks and mortar, we’re talking curtains. “Expanding your tents” may look like building expansion, but with or without building changes it involves new ministries, or a new partnership within your community, or even a new global partnership.
I love verses 4-6:
Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed;
do not be discouraged, for you will not suffer disgrace;
…For your Maker is your husband,
the Lord of hosts is his name;
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
the God of the whole earth he is called.
For the Lord has called you
Church, we belong to the Lord! The Bishops have not called us. The denomination has not called us. God has called us. God has gathered your church family in its place and in this time. You are still called to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. You are still called and still capable of shining light in the dark places in your communities.
Verse 10 reminds us that no matter what happens with the denomination, God’s love and covenant of peace remain with your church. So don’t stay discouraged, dear friends. Lift up your eyes and your hearts to the Lord! Then you can receive the promises of verses 11-17! He is about to do something beautiful in you, but you have to let Him. You have to live into your identity in Christ.
As we celebrate Holy Week, let us feel the weight of our sin and our sorrow one last time, and then let it be nailed to the cross of Christ! Come Easter morning let us raise victorious with Christ and embrace the new life He wants to give to each one of us and to our churches!