“THE SCENIC ROUTE”
June 1, 2007
The fact that my wife and I love to travel is no secret. Usually when we are on the road we are in a hurry to get somewhere. Push the speed limit; forget the pit-stops; just get there on time! So it is not often that we get the opportunity to explore the countryside as we rush to our intended destination. But when we have the time we love to take the little side trips which lie in wait for the patient, curious, nature-loving, thrill-seeking traveler. Natural wonders, intriguing historical sites, state parks, antique shops, glorious sunsets, and cheesy tourist traps have all beckoned us to abandon the highway and loiter along the back-roads.
However, when it comes to ministry I have always preferred a straight-line, pedal-to-the-metal, achieve-the-goal-as-soon-as-possible approach. Now, after thirty years in the ministry, I am beginning to understand that God is often much more intent on taking the scenic route. As I look back on all the twists and turns of my life in Christian service I can see the hand of God, my Tour Guide, inviting me to slow down and explore all the interesting sites along the way. Whenever I have felt I had a handle on the next direction in my ministry I would charge forward, exceeding the speed limit, refusing to make a pit-stop, rushing to accomplish the objective. Then, suddenly, the Tour Guide would put up a road-block and escort me on a frustrating detour taking me away from my goals and onto a winding, narrow, dusty trail through the wilderness. As soon as I was allowed to find my way back to the highway I would once again put everything in high gear in a vain attempt to make up for lost time only to suffer another frustrating delay from a new construction zone a few miles down the road.
What’s the message here? I believe God has been showing me that He is far more concerned about the traveler than the destination. His focus is on the weary wanderer, not the fulfillment of our goals. With this in mind, the journey becomes His tool for shaping His pilgrims into the man or woman He desires. He will take us on any detour, lead us down any scenic byway, and guide us through any off-road adventure that will accomplish His purpose.
Serving the Lord is not about building a local church, creating a new ministry, advancing one’s own agenda, or even reaching the lost. And it certainly isn’t about following the same pathway as every other servant. It is all about building a relationship with the Tour Guide. He is rarely in a hurry and He loves taking the scenic route. Only by prayerfully, faithfully, diligently following where He leads will we ever be able to accomplish the mission He has mapped out for each one of us. …let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus… – He. 12:1-2.
I believe this is a good time to describe the road we are currently following in this ministry. I’m asking you to ease off on the gas pedal, roll down the windows, breathe in the fresh air and take a little side excursion with me. Allow me to show you the scenic route where our Tour Guide is leading us.
Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. – Is. 43:18-19. This is the passage of Scripture which began our one-day, regional house church gathering two weeks ago. After a time of prayer we asked those present to share what the Lord had been pouring into their hearts and what they believed the Lord was anxious for us to hear. Where was He leading us in this ministry? The above passage was read followed by several others. Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you. – Joshua 3:5. Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. They will mount up with wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint. – Is. 40:31.
The feeling seemed to be unanimous that God was about to do something huge in this area, that a fresh wave of God’s Spirit would soon be poured out in overwhelming abundance, that a powerful revival was on its way. We all realized the need to wait on the Lord for direction and guidance. One member of our gathering described a vision she had seen of “waves of God’s glory coming toward Earth,” but also cautioned about an enormous upheaval in the kingdom as God’s people transition from an inward, local-church focus to a more kingdom mindset.
Another participant reminded us that God has no grandchildren. Every child of God has equal access to the Father and is called into an intimate personal relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, the tendency in most traditional congregations is for the pastoral staff to fulfill the role of spiritual fathering prompting the members to allow the professionals to do the work of relating to God on their behalf. This results in propagating spiritual grandchildren rather than raising mature children for God. The pathway the Lord is leading us on must encourage everyone to form their own deep personal relationship with the heavenly Father, without any go-betweens.
There was much discussion on how to reach out into our communities. Simple churches, like many legacy churches, can easily become ingrown and self-absorbed. We were led to study the four passages in the Gospels which deal directly with the apostolic calling, Matthew 9:35-10:20, Mark 6:6-13, Luke 9:1-6, and 10:1-20. As we read these Scriptures we wrote down the following words and phrases through which we felt the Lord was trying to communicate specifically to us:
1. “Compassion” (Mt. 9:36). This must be our motive for reaching out to others. The closer we draw to the Lord the more we can feel Him grieving for Northern California.
2. “Ask the Lord” (Mt. 9:38, Lk. 10:2). This is the only resource we need. Everything we require for the journey is waiting for us in the harvest, including the workers who will partner with us. Asking God for the souls of the lost is part of this request. But be careful, in praying this prayer God may lead you on a detour through the scenic route.
3. “Lost sheep” (Mt. 10:6). This is our focus. It is not our aim to draw people away from legacy churches, although this will likely happen as God calls those He has chosen to be a part of this special ministry. Our mission must be primarily to reach the lost.
4. “Sheep among wolves” (Mt. 10:16, Lk. 10:3). This mission is not for the feint of heart. We must stick close to the Shepherd.
5. “Given what to say” (Mt. 10:19). There are no modern blueprints for how to do this ministry, nor can there be. Every location, every situation will require different approaches. Again, we must rely on the Lord every step of the journey.
6. “The Kingdom” (Mt. 10:7, Lk. 9:2, Lk. 10:9). This is our message. It is not about building our own empires, championing our favorite doctrines, or lobbying for our favorite social concerns. It is not about drawing denominational boundaries between groups of God’s children, encouraging other believers to join us rather than some other gathering, or pointing our fingers at all the flaws we happen to see in the traditional church. It is about advancing the kingdom of heaven on the King’s terms, in the King’s power, and for the King’s glory!
7. “Sent them…where He was about to go” (Lk. 10:1). In recent months God has been raising up an increasing number of believers who are feeling called into the simple church ministry in this area. I’m guessing the same is happening elsewhere as well. He also seems to be calling out those who appear to be apostolically gifted in order to plant networks of simple churches throughout Northern California. The Lord strongly spoke to us through this verse suggesting that He is raising us up to help prepare the way for a powerful visitation from Him.
If this last point is true it is likely that there are many others who are now or soon will be receiving a similar calling. The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. – Lk. 10:2. Perhaps the Spirit is speaking to you as you read this. Is there a signpost in the road up ahead that says, “Detour,” or “Exit Here for a Scenic Drive?” If so, please slow down, turn off the highway, and follow our Tour Guide. The task ahead of us is daunting, but the views on this scenic route are incredible! Please contact us and let us know how we might encourage each other along the journey.
Bill, a child of God enjoying the view