Friday, 19 November 2010

Faithfulness vs. frustration, contentment vs. vision

In our book group at church we’ve read other novels by Francine Rivers – but I’ve finished another one which has really made me think about ministry.

And the Shofar Blew - Francine Rivers
A crackingly good book!!!

And the Shofar Blew is the story of a Minister who is called to pastor a numerical dying congregation. The story, which spans more than a decade, tells the story of the church growing to be a mega church – but with some disastrous consequences.

The blurb on Amazon says this:

In this relevant and timely contemporary novel, dynamic young preacher Paul Hudson is committed to building his church ... but at what cost? In the Old Testament, God called his people to action with the blast of the shofar, ram's horn. Will Paul hear God's call as he struggles with the choice between his will and the Lord's plan?

I read it on holiday and it was one of those books that you couldn’t put down – but one that gave you so much to think about that it wasn’t a good idea to read it before bedtime – as it created a couple of sleepless nights! It was very painful to read in places.

Ministry can be a very taxing occupation. One of the first questions we are asked when meeting new people is about the numbers of folk in our church – that is an indication of supposed success. Having a single pastorate with a fairly healthy numerical membership in URC terms would for many be seen as successful.

Is that what success is in terms of the Kingdom of God?

The book follows a church that for many in the outside world is successful, huge, with hundreds coming, with programmes and planning and staff members and wonderful buildings.... and all the answers! I won’t spoil the story in case you want to read it, but the novel shatters the illusion of success. It really made me think!! For I can recognise that I’ve perhaps ‘coveted’ what some other churches have –all the ‘froth and bubble’, the resources, the people talent, the opportunities for work etc etc... I think lots of my ministerial friends and colleagues would say the same thing, that out of desire for change and growth they’ve often looked over the fence and see other churches ‘succeeding’ and wish we had a bit of what they do.

Steve Chalke once said that in leadership terms that “vision and frustration are the same thing”. In other words most church leaders are people who are not content in things staying as they are, who are always striving for more, in not standing still.... I’ve been reflecting on what is the nature of contentment in ministry – how do contentment and vision sit together? How do faithfulness and frustration work together?

Is it okay to what to strive for something more? To be something else? Or should we learn to rest with what we have and be more content.

God is abundantly faithful to us. He calls us to faithfulness.... and that is often in places of challenge, barrenness and disappointment.

Jeff Manion

At the Willow Creek Summit, Jeff Manion, Senior Pastor of Ada Bible Church ( reflected on the ‘Land Between’ of Numbers 11. (It's also the title of his book!)

The land between the setting of and reaching the promised land. In the land between the people whinged, complained and moaned. Nothing was ever good enough. It wasn’t like it used to be, where are we heading, where are you taking us they would complain!

The Land Between: Finding God in
difficult transitions by Jeff Manion.

Jeff reflected that it is in the ‘land between’ of all sorts of different circumstances that God is honing us. And we all have different ‘land betweens’ in church life, in our personal circumstances, in our relationships...

In Numbers 11 God uses the journey and all the difficulty for redemptive purposes. The people were not ready for the promises of God in the promised land.... so there was work to be done in the journeying. They had to learn to trust in God a bit more, learn to be changed, to be healed, to trust in the purposes of God.

In the ‘land inbetween’, in the wilderness the people thrived on complaint, on if only’s, on the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. Jeff Manion suggested (and I think he’s right) that in the ‘land between’, in the wilderness your heart is in danger. As the ‘land between’ is either a place to grow or a place where your faith goes to die. It’s a place of complaint, and when that takes hold it is a difficult houseguest to evict. We need another house guest to take residence – and that’s the guest of TRUST, as trust and complaint are incompatible roommates.

I think it’s true that God does some of His most redeeming and transformational work when we are in the valleys of life and faith and in the ‘land between’.

So I’m challenged to be more content, to trust, to be faithful. God is good.

“The providence of God will not place you where the grace of God cannot keep you.”

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