Do-Or-Die, De Vine and De Branch

So I’ve hit the ground running at my new church. We arrived here just two months ago now, after saying tearful goodbyes to dear friends in our former ministry field.

I’d given 5 years of my life to that church, starting it from scratch. And I had learned so much that had somehow escaped me in my previous 30 years of ministry.

In that church with no building, I’d learned to see my worth not by how big of a budget I oversaw, but by how much love was exchanged between me and my people.

I’d also learned that it wasn’t just the people who came to my services to whom I was called. I was a pastor to many who never darkened my rented church doors. I counseled hundreds of people who either went to other churches or never got up the gumption to try mine. But to this day, they still see me as their pastor and I saw them as my flock (even though I know that might ruffled some people’s ecclesiology).

It was there I learned to take risks, because paying every bill was a leap of faith. I learned how to leave results to God, so much so that when we finally closed our doors 5 years later, I didn’t feel at all that I’d failed.

You see, God had taught me all local churches are just temporary. Only His universal Church last forever. And the people I’d won into His Kingdom were now part of that Church, whether they ever came to one of my services again or not.

So after two whopping months of pastoring a church with a huge facility where I’d had none before, after overseeing a budget of around a million bucks that was mostly non-existent before, and working in a church office that replaced the one I kept at the local Starbucks before, I can see Satan’s plan for me quite clearly now…

He’s trying to make me forget about depending on God, and go back to depending on myself again.

I’m starting to get engulfed in the problems of the church. No, nothing catastrophic, but there are very real challenges moving forward. The neighborhood changed about 40 years ago, and the church has been dying ever since. They’ve neglected outreach, waiting for all the nice tidy families to move back in their community. Happily, families are now moving back, but they no longer have the Christian context the others did. Now, outreach is a do or die option for us.

If we don’t find a way to connect with those folks, win them to Christ and bring them into the church, we will most surely die. And this huge facility will become one big whopping mausoleum.

Before, my success or failure mainly just affected me. Now my failure could possibly take down a whole church, along with buildings that people paid for over the years and a Christian school parents depend upon.

Yeah, no pressure at all.

I find myself being dragged into morbid introspection with others about how to overcome the downward trend the church has been on for…oh…about thirty years now. We bandy around multiple scenarios about how to stop the hemorrhaging. We play imaginary chess in our heads, wondering about the repercussions of “this move” and the ripple effect it will make throughout the congregation.

Will the music be contemporary enough to attract young adults, but not so contemporary to push away the seniors? 

Can we update things without offending the people who put the outdated trappings in place?

Is there a way to show respect for the church’s past without wallowing in it until it suffocates us?

So I’m starting to believe that everything depends on my next chess move, my sharpest strategy, my winning masterstroke in the chess game. And Satan is happy with me working hours upon hours at all this.

Why? Because he knows as long as I’m distracted by work I think depends on me, I will avoid taking my church’s need before the God who is really the only One who can fix things.

The problem with thinking it all depends on you is you stay in your office and ruminate on the problems too much. Or you walk to someone else’s office to ruminate. But this keeps you away from the people who really need you, inside and outside the church.

And the people are who you’re called to love and serve, not the buildings, budgets or programs.

Also, Satan plays to our pride by complementing us on when our decisions start to produce good results. We get a win, and the complements ring in our ears for days.

Why would Satan complement us for winning against his side? Simple. It’s because he knows those are just the skirmishes, not the whole war. And the only one who can defeat him in the war is not you and your pitiful little plans, but God…

The very God you are no longer relying on.

So after spending day after day for the last two months cooped up in an office I swore I’d never again allow myself to be trapped within again, I’ve decided I’m going out tomorrow.

No, I’m not being negligent of my work. Actually just the opposite. I’m going to go away from the buildings and budgets and spend some time with the only One who can make a dent in any of our challenges. I’m going to chill about the details and pray, dumping all the details on my Daddy.

I’m going to take a situation that was always way over my head and give it to the One who is literally over my head. And by the bended knee, the bowed head, the submitted will, I will soon have won the war.

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw theminto the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.”  – John 15:5-8

So how about you? How about you stop trying to fix your problems, taking the weight on your shoulders until it breaks you. Take it all to the One without whom you can do nothing. But with whom, your actions and plans suddenly spring to life with renewed power and purpose.

Connect with God, depending on Him, and just watch how much fruit you begin to bear when you’re attached to your true Source.

As Keith always said, “He is divine, and you are de branch”.

So stay connected, and then you won’t come apart.

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