Thursday, October 15, 2015

The church in the wilderness

Some of my favorite stories in the Bible are the ones where people are on a journey to an unknown destination. Abram was called by God to leave his people and go to a place where I will show you meaning that his final destination would not be revealed unless he had the faith to begin the journey. The Israelites left 400 years of slavery for an unknown destination and to begin a new life. When they arrived at the Promised Land they refused to enter it and spent another 40 years in the wilderness as God prepared the next generation to possess the land.

Although the disciples were commanded by God to preach the Gospel to every person, they were reluctant to leave Jerusalem until persecution finally forced them to do so. Things may not have been good in Jerusalem, but at least they were familiar, and the disciples were in no hurry to leave for unknown destinations.

The wilderness is where the church finds itself today. Many churches struggle to know what they should be doing in a culture that rejects the Gospel to seek gods of their own making. Denominations struggle to keep their mechanisms and bureaucracies operating. Some compare the situation of today's church to a hamster in the wheel running faster and faster but going nowhere.

I prefer to think of our situation as being in a wilderness. We know what doesn't work (much of what we've done in the past), but we don't know what will work. Not knowing what to do, many of our churches and denominational bodies try to do the same things they've always done but with little results for their efforts. Like the Israelites in the wilderness who wanted to return to being slaves in Egypt, we want to return to what we know even though it is no longer effective.

Maybe we should embrace the wilderness as God's time for us right now. That doesn't mean that we do nothing, or that we push to return to a past way of doing ministry that no longer works, or that we chase every fad that comes along. It does mean that we spend this time seeking a fresh vision from God for our future ministry as churches and denominational organizations. It might mean that we become less dependent upon programs and more dependent upon the Spirit of God to reveal to us where we are to go.

Abram became Abraham, the father of many nations, when he arrived at the place where God was leading him. The Israelites conquered the much stronger inhabitants of the Promised Land when they entered the place God wanted them. The disciples became known as the people who turned the world upside-down when they left the comfortable for the unknown destinations God had for them. When we come out of the wilderness we may find that we have become much stronger than when we entered it and find that God will accomplish great things in and through us.


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