Posts Tagged ‘Hebrews 11:6’

Last Saturday night, my wife and I attended a birthday party for my oldest friend.  We first met nearly half a century ago!

During the party, I spoke with a woman who had been in my youth group at the second church I served as youth pastor.  I asked her how the church we had both attended was doing.

She said, “The church went downhill for years.  I was hoping they wouldn’t sell the property and put houses on it.  But they finally sold the building to another church.”

That church we attended was going downhill when I was there more than three decades ago.  Although the property encompassed nearly a city block, there were large cracks in the parking lot … the rooms were dark and scary (one room looked like a mausoleum) … and some rather unsavory people were running the church.

Why do churches like that one slowly die?

There’s been a lot of research done on church pathology.  I recall terms like social strangulation … St. John’s Syndrome … and koinonitis, to name just a few.

But one of the biggest reasons that churches start to die is that they stop taking risks.

Risk taking is required when a church begins:

*It’s risky for a pastor to start a church.  What if nobody comes to the first service?

*It’s risky for the pastor to recruit a core group.  What if those people are incompetent or unspiritual?

*It’s risky for the church to sign a lease for their first meeting place.  What if offerings don’t cover the costs?

*It’s risky for the church to secure an office and purchase office equipment.  What if the church can’t make the payments?

*It’s risky for the church to try and pay the pastor’s full-time salary.  Will they lose him if they can’t?

*It’s risky for the church to hire staff.  What if they don’t work out?

*It’s risky for a church to raise money … buy land … hire an architect … battle city government and neighbors … do a capital campaign … buy furnishings … and wait for a building to be completed.  What if the church doesn’t grow?

But whenever I think of taking risks for God, I think of Hebrews 11.  Most of the men and women mentioned in that passage heard a word from God and then did unprecedented things … risking their reputations (Noah), families (Abraham), positions (Moses), and lives (Rahab) because they believed in the promises of a big, big God.  As Hebrews 11:6 puts it:

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

Without faith … which I believe is acting on a word from God … we cannot please God.

God places His hand of blessing on those who do please Him … and removes that same hand from those who don’t.

Even when we believe that God is leading us to do something great for Him, risk taking doesn’t always work.  Sometimes:

*New church plants don’t make it.

*Staff members bomb out.

*Churches split and can’t pay their mortgages.

*Pastors implode morally or relationally and leave their ministries.

But even though these are all possibilities, most churches never do anything significant for Christ unless they take some major risks.

In fact, if you view a graph of a church’s history, you’ll find that whenever a church enjoys a significant period of growth, it’s because they stepped out in faith and took some risks.

I have a pastor friend who leads a church that God is blessing … and the church engaged in risk taking all along the way:

*The church hired my friend even though it was his first pastorate.

*The church kept going even though they were leasing a commercial building at an exorbitant price.

*The church had the opportunity to buy an existing church building nearby for $5 million … and raised the funds in one month.

*The church has grown to the point where they had to knock out the side walls so they could accommodate more people.

*The church added a third service … and the last time I attended there, the place was so packed my wife and I had to squeeze into the last row.

In many churches, the leaders would have said, “It’s not the right time … we don’t have the money … we’re not sure this is going to work … let’s wait until the economy improves” … and like Israel standing at Kadesh Barnea, they would have missed their God-given opportunity and chosen fear over faith.

But they chose to trust God instead, and the Lord has rewarded them with a healthy, growing ministry.

I wish I had learned this principle sooner.  In my first decade of ministry, the two churches I led as pastor took zero risks.  Both our faith and our God were small.  We existed for ourselves … and were slowly dying.

But when we realized how big God is … and that He wants His people to reach unbelievers for Jesus … everything changed.

What kind of faith-risks should pastors consider?

*Start another service.  Reach a different demographic.  Change the music and the feel of the service.  It might take six months to a year to pull it off, but it gives a church a sense of momentum.

*Hire that needed staff member.  Okay, maybe you don’t have the money in this year’s budget, but if it’s the right person, they’ll pay for themselves after a year or two.  Just do it.

*Be edgier in your preaching.  Start sharing how you really feel.  Be more prophetic, touching on both church and cultural sins.  People will remember what you say longer and better when you’re authentic.

*Start another church.  Four years ago, I attended a service at Holy Trinity Brompton in London where Nicky Gumbel is the pastor.  The church bought an old cathedral in Brighton and was recruiting a core group that Sunday to move from London to Brighton to reach people for Christ in that resistant city by the sea.  I was moved to tears and was so excited I felt like joining that core group!

*Make a difference somewhere else.  Build a well in Africa … construct a church building in Mexico … buy a jeep for a missionary in Brazil … go and train pastors in a Third World country.

These are just some ideas, but realize this: both you and your church will sense excitement … and feel God’s blessing … when you take a risk and step out in faith.

However, pastors instinctively know that if and when they attempt to do something great for God, they will have to battle the naysayers and joysuckers who want to keep things the way they are.

Listen to them, and your church will wander in the ecclesiastical wilderness.

Listen to God, and you just may enter the Promised Land.


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