I’ve never been a big New Year’s Resolution guy. Many people make resolutions stating that they want to lose a few pounds, get healthy, start exercising, take out a gym membership, read more, be kinder etc. Gyms and health clubs are usually busiest in January, but the majority lose 50% of new members in the first 6 months. Many, though well-intentioned, lose interest over time or just realize the work and time needed is too much to stick with it. Now, don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy the newness that a New Year brings; this sense of hope that wells up in many of us as we put to rest the year that was and anticipate the year to come. It makes New Year’s Eve celebrations fun to be part of. Although the older I get, the harder it is for me to make it to midnight and the more I look forward to 12:01 am and the opportunity for my head to hit the pillow. Yes, the New Year has arrived … Good Night!
The beginning of a new year brings exactly that… “newness”. In this issue of The Recorder, we have a number of articles that explore the topic of Renewal. Pastor of Care and Mission Kelly Lesser’s article “Renew me, O God” focuses on the story of King David and his prayer found in Psalm 51:10 “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”. Kelly states – “Like David we need the Lord to renew us and give us a new vision for Him”.
In this issue we also have an article by Rachel Wall “Restoration and Renewal: Hope for Our Weary Souls”. As you read it, you’ll note how she shares of her experience of renewal. She explores the relationship of Jesus with Peter, who in John 21 restores his relationship with Peter and welcomes him back into a renewed relationship with Him… “Do you love me? … Yes Lord … then feed my sheep”. Three times Peter denied Jesus, three time Jesus asked him if he loved him, three times he answered yes, and then ended the conversation with “follow me!” Peter, in all his imperfections, followed his master, preached and led with a renewed boldness that caused the Good News of Jesus to spread to all corners of the world. He fed the sheep!
The theme of renewal reminds me of a testimony I heard a few years back. While attending the Multiply Church Planting Conference in Vancouver BC, I heard Pastor Mark Jobe, Senior Pastor of the New Life Community Church in Chicago, tell his story. He shared of how he had grown up in Spain as the son of missionaries. As a teenager he had noted how many of Spain’s big, beautiful cathedrals were now empty tourist attractions, no longer filled with people worshiping God … Dry Bones! The verse from Ezekiel 37 “Can these dry bones live?” came to his mind.
At the age of 17 he moved to Chicago. Having moved from a small village to this big, busy bustling city, he found it difficult to see any beauty. He resolved to move out as soon as possible. But God had other plans and began to open Mark’s eyes to see with a renewed vision. As Mark spent time in downtown Chicago he began to note the churches, many were closed. Some were rundown with dwindling congregations, shells, no longer resembling the once vibrant congregations. Dry Bones! Again, the verses from Ezekiel 37 came to mind “Can these dry bones live?” Mark’s answer was much the same as Ezekiel’s “Sovereign Lord, you alone know”.
It soon became apparent that Mark’s life would be woven into the fabric of Chicago. His dream of leaving to some other locale changed, and at the age of 21 he became pastor of one of these rundown, downtown Chicago churches with an average attendance of 18! He was resolved to help change the trajectory of this church and the community. He started sharing the clear message of Jesus with people on the streets, saturated in love and grace. The church began to grow and its mission was renewed! Soon other churches with aging congregations, on the brink of closing, were calling Mark and asking if his church would come to help. A renewal/restart ministry was born, bringing renewal and new life to dying churches. Today that little falling apart church is the New Life Community Church with 27 locations in Chicago, 44 worship services and 7000 people calling these churches their home. Many are vibrant congregations in poor neighbourhoods shining the light of Jesus in otherwise dark parts of this city. These Dry Bones CAN live again!
During the past four years Darrell Kehler and I have had the privilege of bringing our Leading With Vision workshop to most of our EMMC churches. To date this has impacted more than 1100 leaders within our family of churches. As part of the workshop we share of the “Lifecycle of the Church” explaining that churches go through various stages from launch, to momentum and strategic growth to sustained health. But they can also fall into maintenance and preservation stages and if not corrected they can fall to life support where the only options are to pull the plug or restart. Often this can be a very pivotal time of ministry review. Are we growing or are we just maintaining? The opportunities we’ve had to watch leaderships, to watch churches, have a renewed sense of calling, of vision, of mission has been truly rewarding!
Although I may not be big on resolutions, I am a planner and I am energized in working through action steps to a stated goal. A few years back, we as the EMMC conference established a Strategic Plan that would provide a basis for a renewed obedience and response to Jesus’ exhortation to “GO… make disciples” in Matthew 28:18-20. It states that leadership development and discipleship are to become part of the DNA of our churches. It doesn’t happen by accident, we must be intentional about fostering a culture of mentorship and discipleship.
God has created us each unique, with passions, abilities and a calling. He has plans for each of us and our churches. We need renewal regularly, daily as God transforms our old ways, to His new ways. To see clearly, our desires must become His desires; our plans must become His plans; our vision, must become His vision.
To that end, may we resolve to pray as King David prayed
“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10.
May we also resolve to pray this prayer as a church,
“Create in US pure hearts, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within US.”