Go to the nearest smallest church and commit yourself to being there for 6 months. If it doesn’t work out, find somewhere else. But don’t look for programs, don’t look for entertainment, and don’t look for a great preacher. A Christian congregation is not a glamorous place, not a romantic place. That’s what I always told people. If people were leaving my congregation to go to another place of work, I’d say, “The smallest church, the closest church, and stay there for 6 months.” Sometimes it doesn’t work. Some pastors are just incompetent. And some are flat out bad. So I don’t think that’s the answer to everything, but it’s a better place to start than going to the one with all the programs, the glitz, all that stuff.”
The words above were spoken by pastor and author (of the Message fame) Eugene Peterson. Truer words have not been spoken, “A Christian congregation is not a glamorous place.” Often times, the local church isn’t very sexy or exciting, or if it is for a while, it quickly fades. For Bethany North, we now are turning three years old. And the rite of passage makes me think back on what we’ve done. Where we’ve been. And where we’re going.
We started here in late September 2010- with 110 people and 55 kids. We had hoped for 30 kids so lets just say from day 1, we’ve seen an abundance of God’s provision through the joy of children. We stayed in the Richmond Highlands gym for 6 months and found another, larger spot. We moved into the larger digs at Spartan Gym unsure of next steps- sure of only this one.
Now as we progress, we face new challenges. How do we remain joyful in our volunteerism? How do we continue to spread the news that there is a church in Shoreline built on making the invisible God visible? How do we continue to grow based on the principle that the church is a people and not a building? How do we deliver on the promise that as we connect and serve we will make Jesus known? How can we inspire others with the truth that as we participate in the local church and the service in our community, God can continue to transform us? These are the questions that gnaw at me as the leader of Bethany North. But though questions persist, make no doubt about it; God is doing wonderful things in and among us.
And the truth, church, is that our best days are ahead. In the book of Judges, God had raised up a leader named Gideon. Gideon was facing an enemy army, and after being convinced God was calling him, Gideon exhibited great leadership. He convinced others. He cast vision. He built something powerful. He recruited an army of thousands to lead Israel into victory over the Midianites, a rival people group threatening Israel’s survival. The army was 22,000 strong. It was an army up to the task of facing the Midianites in battle.
But then God did something mind-blowing- He told Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me” (Judges 7:2). Then the army of 22,000 became 10,000. Then God separated them further down to 300 men. God took Gideon’s powerful group of 22,000 and made it His own powerful number of 300.
What? God wants us to win battles- but do it with smaller armies? Do it undermanned? Yes- the God of the bible is a God of small armies. For real power comes from God’s strength and provision and not merely by growing things on our own. When we build powerful teams and do powerful things, we’re often mindful of our own accomplishments and not on the provision of God. But when we’re amazed and surprised that God has taken our humble efforts and blessed them abundantly? Well, we’re able to be thankful. We’re able to be humble. We’re able to be mindful that our strength is in the Lord, not ourselves.
This is good news to me today, and for the last few weeks. This little nugget is giving me hope. Often times I’m mindful of feeling overmatched and overwhelmed and I’m aware there is much to do that I’m simply not powerful enough. And yet, I believe in a God who is more powerful than my own efforts. So, I’m clinging to the God of Gideon, the same God who came and took flesh as Jesus Christ- who took the incarnational, small army approach to transform the people that followed Him instead setting up an earthly Kingdom or regime. The God of Gideon, this small army God, repeatedly used broken people to profess that God was alive and well and absolutely determined on redeeming this world.
This is my prayer this week:
“God, will take my small army and make it powerful for You?
God- we confess- there is much about the future for Bethany North
we can’t figure out.
But we know You can.
Lead us we pray.
We are a small army.
We are broken people.
And we give You thanks for all the goodness and growth
and health we’ve experienced so far.
Its clearly been from Your strength and not our own.
Thank you God- You have been so good to us.”