Hopeless or Displaced Hope?

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Friends it has been three months since my last post, because my family and I have been in a season of personal and professional transition. My clergy credentials have been transferred to the Global Methodist Church! I had grown increasingly frustrated with the United Methodist institution and its unfaithful leadership. I am relieved and thrilled to be part of a connectional denomination which is infused with the hope of Christ!

Over the past several years, I have watched as rural, churches have declined, gone without consistent pastoral leadership for a few years, and then closed. Recently, I was able to have conversations with members of one such congregation. They didn’t ask to close. Their District Superintendent came in with a hopeless vision that could only lead to closure.

Did this happen because of a shortage of pastors? Did it happen because of Covid-19? Did it happen because of the church’s rural location? While those circumstances have contributed to decline in many churches, no, this is not the cause. It happened because at some point the church placed their hope in their pastor, denominational leadership, programs, or other idols instead of in Christ. No matter what denomination you are part of, including the new Global Methodist Church, it will not save you. It will not grow your church. It will not make disciples for the transformation of your community.

In Matthew chapter 19, we read of Jesus’ conversation with a rich man. The man wanted to know what he lacked for salvation. Jesus invited the man to sell everything, give to the poor, and follow Him. The man just left sad and hopeless. Jesus then said to the disciples, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God…With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (verses 24 & 26)

When our ministry feels hopeless, we have displaced our hope. We are focused on the “wealth” of our past and discouraged by the contrast of our present circumstances. We long for that pastor, or ministry, or the energy of younger days that we think brought growth to our church. But the truth is these people and things never really grow a church. It is Christ who grows a church.

Remember the end of Acts chapter 2, “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Not the pastor, not the ministry, not the young and able bodied, but the Lord grew their fellowship! Why? Because they were focused on Him alone. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42)

Because of that devotion, that focus, we read in the next verse that, “Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.” (verse 43) That kind of energy doesn’t require youthful, able bodies, is sustained not on our own efforts but through the Holy Spirit, and is contagious and attractive. People get curious when they see this kind of ministry happening in the lives of believers and in their fellowship together.

In verse 45, we read that they were able to do the thing the rich man couldn’t. Their property and possessions meant less to them than the souls and needs of their neighbors. Though they met together every day, their ministry didn’t have the overhead costs our ministries do today. They met in their homes and ate together, “praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.” (Acts 2:47a)

Here the Believer’s Bible commentary reads, “Life became an anthem of praise and a psalm of thanksgiving for those who had been delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the Kingdom of the Son of God’s love.” (p.1589) What if that is what we recognized as ministry today: lives as anthems of praise and psalms of thanksgiving to God?

Friends, your life is your ministry! Take that uniquely rural flavor of life and use it to make disciples. Spread the contagious joy of your salvation to your neighbors. Eat together, play together, study scripture and pray together. Sing to the Lord together (around those fall bonfires before the s’mores; it is very hard to sing with marshmallow mouth!).

More and more of your neighbors are searching for true, lasting hope and they are struggling to find it in their local churches or witnessing it in their Christian neighbors. Receive this word from Ephesians 5:8-20 as I wrap up this post: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light  (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth)  and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’ Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

It is time to “wake up sleeper”, and put your hope firmly in Christ alone, so that you may be the light. Live as children of the light so that your life will bear witness to the hope you have in Christ. And remember to always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks about the hope you have (1 Peter 3:15, paraphrased), because they will ask for the world longs for this hope.

If you need support in recovering this hope for yourself or navigating this shift from going to church to becoming the Church, please contact me! I would love to hear your story, pray with you, and encourage you directly.

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