The Easter service is over... now what?1
Most pastors take an extra day or two off after the Easter service for recuperation. As you all know, we prayed hard, labored hard, and worshipped deeply. We had over 30 first time visitors. To begin with, thank you all for all of your help in the preparation for Easter. I wish that Easter was a long and as jubilant as our Christmas traditions are, it certaintly deserves it. But during my past few days of rest and recuperation, I've had some extra time to think and pray about what is next. And I'd like to share a few things with you all:
LEARNING FROM GIDEON AND HIS FAILURE OF MEMORY
This morning I read the story of Gideon again. In Judges 6-7, God calls Gideon to gather an army to free Israel from the tyrrany of the Midianites. He chooses only 300 men to fight the host of Midan, because he wanted Israel to know that it was not their own strength that will deliver them from Midan, but rather the Lord's (Judges 7:2). Gideon experienced enourmous success. God worked through him as their leader, clearly, as a host of 300 to fight an army "like locusts in abundance" (7:12) led to an unexpected victory.
Yet Gideon quickly let the success get to his head. He began picking fights unnecessarily with different cities. Gideon fell into a massive power trip, acting as if he was the new great and mighty man who by his own power had delivered Israel from the Midianites. He even pretended to not only be Israel's new leader, but their new high priest of sorts, building for them a golden ephod (the garment of a priest) which proved to be a massive spiritual stumbling block to Israel, as it appeared they fell into a sin similar to the golden calf incident, many years before.
There is much we can learn from this story. Any success in minsitry belongs to the Lord. Not to us. If we think it belongs to us, we will only fall into a sort of works-based ministry model that says "harder work will grow God's Kingdom." Many a church has fallen into this, and many a ministry leader who experienced enourmous success in ministry falls into a power trip like Gideon.
Focus can be lost and motivation could be altered. We can begin thinking that church is about Sunday morning and its attendance and if it goes down after a great successful Sunday like Easter, that we simply need to work harder. Or our spirits could be brought low.
We need to stop and state some possible realities, and apply the story of Gideon to ourselves and learn from his faults:
SUNDAY MORNING ATTENDANCE MAY RETURN TO PRE-EASTER NUMBERS, OR IT MAY PERMANENTLY RISE
On Monday morning, my first feeling was this: next week, there is a good chance that our Sunday morning attendance will be back to normal numbers. Or, maybe it will not be. That is part of the adventure of church planting - each Sunday service can be very different than the last. But our hope is not based on whatever that outcome may be, because...
OUR CHURCH PLANT IS NOT EVENT-BASED, BUT PEOPLE BASED
It is a good time to remind ourselves that our church plant is not an event-based church. This is what I mean: it is not primary about Sunday morning attendance. Attendance is extremely important, because people matter. But, as we know, we do not attend church, but rather, we are the church. We are the assembly of God's people (the Greek word for 'church' is ecclesia, which simply means 'assembly' and not 'building' or 'service'). The church is a group of Christ worshippers - not a service, nor a facility.
ITS NOT PRIMARILY ABOUT LIFTING ATTENDANCE NUMBERS, BUT LIFTING UP JESUS
If God chooses to bless us and provide for us higher Sunday attendance numbers post-Easter, we can rejoice in getting to know those people and having them worship with us and know that the growth is his work and not ours.
But the joy and enthusiam of church planting cannot be primarily attendance numbers. If it is, we will be a church of sweeping highs and crushing lows. We can begin developing insecurities about our small numbers. And the most important danger would be this: we forget that our primary joy, energies and motivations for church planting is Jesus Christ. And not higher attendance. Lifting Jesus high will cause him to draw people to himself (John 12:32). That is the umbrella of which is our 'church growth strategy' at Redeemer churches.
We do not lift ourselves and our talents and abilities high, and design our Sunday services with great pomp and clever schemes to draw people to Jesus. We raise Jesus up to draw people to himself. If people come because of Jesus, they will return because of Jesus. And we can then only be thankful to Jesus for the growth.
PRAY FOR DEEP COMMUNITY AND GROWING ATTENDANCE
Again, it must be repeated: I am not saying that attendance does not matter. Attendance does indeed matter, because people matter. So as we worship Jesus, raise him up before all who are a part of this new church family, we do pray for new worshippers of Jesus to be drawn to himself. We pray that our community can strengthen ever so deeply as to be a family of Christians that people want to be a part of. We want to be a family of Christians that make a difference in our community for its betterment. We want the Good News of Jesus to transform new lives.
Don't be like Gideon, and think that your hard work brought our Easter success. Know that Jesus did it. Rejoice in that. And let's stay prostate before him, knowing that in him we live and move and have our being, and he is indeed our only hope in life and death.
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