So on the last Sunday of my Sabbatical I decided to visit a Baptist church in our community that has had their share of troubles. This once strong and vibrant church has been through the ringer in lots of ways. I was curious as to how they are doing these days, and I wanted to meet and hear their new pastor who began his ministry earlier this month. Good news to report here: there is a fresh wind blowing through this Baptist church!
We pulled up their driveway to see a full parking lot. We entered their worship center and found a couple of seats near the back. We were just a few minutes early. But by the time worship began the room filled up, and it's a big room. The pastor mentioned near the end of the service that they were needing to bring in more chairs. An assistant pastor said that they were having to divide their children's worship into different rooms because of new growth. Yes, a fresh wind blows through this church. Heck, I'm guessing they'll be going back to two services again soon. Good for them, and praise God!
Their worship music style is contemporary and has been for a long time. Honestly, that kind of worship is not my cup of tea, but they do it very well. Their people seem to really respond to it in offering their praise to God, and that's what matters. We don't all have to worship God through music in the same way, do we? God certainly loves diversity in creation; why wouldn't He enjoy diversity in our worship? So the song service, a welcome, and an offering.
Then, the new pastor got up to preach. He's preaching a series on the book of Acts as a means of expounding on the nature of the church (a wise place to begin for a new pastor, it seems to me). He preached about the unmistakable identity of the church. He's a good preacher—dynamic, articulate, on fire for Jesus. At the invitation time, a family joined and lots and lots of people came to the altar to pray for God to use them and their church in our community and world. It was a powerful moment.
But I want to reflect for a moment on one of the things the pastor touched on several times during his sermon: this idea that the church exists for the kingdom of God, that their church exists for the kingdom of God. I appreciate that. I've been saying that to our people for years. It seems to me that some churches exist for themselves, doing things only if they receive some direct nickels or noses benefits. Such churches are self-centered, self-focused, and put their institution ahead of the larger kingdom of God. I call that a church-centered church. This new pastor wants his congregation to be a kingdom-centered church. Amen! Preach it, brother! Kingdom-centered churches will go any place, pay any price, do anything they feel led by the Spirit to do whether they receive direct benefit from it or not. The question kingdom-centered churches ask as they consider ministries and make decisions about the allocation of their people, physical, and financial resources is not, "What are we going get out of this?" but "Will this extend the kingdom of God?" That's the question that leads to bigger faith, bigger visions, and bigger fruit. And it's also the question that leads to greater unity in the larger body of Christ.
It was great to see the new ways God is at work in this church. It has a great history in our community. And I believe their future is so bright the membership better invest in sunglasses lest they be blinded by the light of what God has in store for them and through them. A fresh wind blows indeed. It reminds me of another wind we read about in the Pentecost story in Acts 2. "There was the sound of a mighty, rushing wind." That wind was the Spirit of God. And I believe this church is hoisting its sail to catch the Spirit-wind, willing to go wherever He blows them. It's going to be fun to watch. Don't you just love it when a church gets up off the mat, discovers fresh energy, new vision, and new life? I think that's what's going on in that church, and I join them in praising God for the fresh work He's doing among them.
And with that visit Sunday, my Sabbatical wanderings come to an end. It's been good to be with a variety of churches. I have gained much from these visits. And in spite of nay-sayers and cynics who suggest the church of Jesus Christ is on life-support, it appears to me that the church is alive and well. Do we have our problems, our issues, our struggles, our sins? Absolutely. But we also have a Christ who is bigger than these things and who will be faithful to the end. May He find us faithful too. I can't help it, and my August visits have confirmed it: I love the body of Christ. I love it in spite of our differences, our downsides, and our quirks. Even more important: Jesus loves it too.
Next Sunday will find me back in the pulpit again, back among the church family God has called me to pastor these last fifteen years. And as much as I've enjoyed my break, as much as I've enjoyed visiting other outposts of the kingdom of God, this I know: there's no place like home.