Friday, March 7, 2014

Being God's People, On Mission, Serving...

It was a positive day when southwest Michigan Saints brought the youthful evangelist, editor-reformer D. S. Warner to southwest Michigan as the final Reformation Movement of church history. “Oh, how my heart bounded within me when I saw the beautiful church” exuded Sebastian Michels, “how God set the members in the church, and how we were all members one of another and by one Spirit were all baptized into the one body, which is the church.”

Youthful vim, vigor, and vibrancy launched the band of several hundred followers into orbit from Grand Junction; albeit, the village offered few amenities for growing a business, starting a reformation, or raising a family. The location remained relatively obscure but Warner saw the railroad crossing as a point for connecting his message of holiness and unity with the world. He poetically dubbed it the place “where the lightning tracks cross.”

Their cooperative efforts became a global ministry. The Michigan faithful eventually organized as the Church of God in Michigan—1920, but always: they remained part of a larger body operating globally out of ministry offices in Anderson, IN. By 1953 they were allegedly the third fastest growing religious body in America. But as happens, institutionalization slowed their excitement and within six decades many local congregation ran on flat tires, wrestling with a culture of drug abuse, divorce and defective lifestyles--75% of churches thought plateaued or terminally ill.

In the 1980s Gerald Nevitt accepted a call to leadership at Michigan’s Lansing Service Center. Completing his doctoral studies at Fuller, he wrote a book I value highly:  God’s People On Mission In Ministry. Nevitt proved a capable State Administrator, but his book plan failed to ignite the necessary fire—just another church growth book! Congregations floundered, fish-tailing in flabby living, spiritual obesity, and in general out of shape.

The church sometimes seemed more like religious tourists sauntering through Disneyland than kingdom sojourners. Among my pleasant memories of ministry are negative pictures that linger, like the new friend who admitted, “I wouldn’t put my family in here,” after helping me unload our possessions from the car into the church basement where we were to reside as the new pastors.

Although new people came in the front door, there were those leaders like Brother Frederick who blind-sided me at the door on Palm Sunday as he handed me the Easter programming and exited with this declaration: “I’m tired of being preached at!” His Easter worship consisted of joining the downtown United Methodist Church.

When our neighbors learned of it--we were all neighbors--two ladies took my wife across town and together they sat and watched this “my good man” exit a nearby bar with a blonde on his arm--not his wife. It split the church right down the center aisle. Being as innocent as green grass, I thought I was preaching a constructive Easterseries on Christian discipleship, only to discover I was unwittingly revealing someone’s spiritual unfaithfulness.

In forty-five years as a church leader, I never found a church that did not want evangelism and growth. Yet, many  wanted me to preach and pray while they went to play. As their pastor, I became their hired gun; their chaplain. The time would come when I would understand that there are times when the church needs to repent for being blind to God’s greatest desire, and for their unwillingness to leave the ninety and nine and go looking searching for that one lost sheep. I found the church does not always behave like the priesthood of believers.

Truthfully, many consider the Priesthood of believers to mean privatized faith where every member’s opinion is equally right and without concern for one's neighbor. When a very young preacher, I heard a pastor preach at a district Youth Rally where he named four in the Trinity. Although his teaching did not square with scripture, when I mentioned it to an older pastor I discovered no one else caught the distinction … but I did.

Some consider the priesthood of believers to mean the majority opinion is always right. Everyone in the church is on the same level, but the Apostles nonetheless guided the Jerusalem church under the mutual guidance of the Holy Spirit. Some Church of God people have not yet learned that the Holy Spirit gifts the church with “pastoral oversight” with “spiritual insight”. 

This recalls the friend who spent much of his sermon telling his congregation of hog farmers how to raise hogs. He concluded by confessing that he knew that they knew that he didn’t know how to raise hogs. But then, he explained, neither did they know how to run the church.

“We are called to be more than enclaves of our particular brand of Christianity” wrote theologian Gil Stafford, who added, “if the church is nothing more than this, then any cul-de-sac will do as a location” (At the Crossroads/78). The Bible describes God choosing Israel to become a channel of saving grace--His delivery system for introducing the Messiah (Savior) into the world.

When Israel failed to understand their mission, God moved beyond the old Covenant (OT) and established  the new Covenant (NT)--the New Israel--those believing in Jesus the Messiah--the church. Peter called the resulting church a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, “that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (I Peter 2:9, NIV).

We are reminded that Jesus remains our message, even while we find our way through our negative and positive perspectives of what God is about. Our prayer at Warner’s World is that we learn to walk daily with him, and that we fulfill our mission of revealing God to an unbelieving world.

I am

No comments: