I really enjoy fishing. There is nothing like being out on the water going after the elusive lake trout, hard-hitting smallmouth bass, or the good old bucket-mouth. Fishing is one of my favourite hobbies.
Perhaps this is why I am drawn to the vision in Ezekiel 47. Where else can you find divine references to fishermen and an abundance of fish! It truly is a spectacular vision.
Ezekiel almost seems to be caught up in a stream that could remind him of Yahweh’s good beginnings for Creation. We know that there was a river that went out from Eden to feed the garden (Gen. 2:10). Ezekiel also could have been reminded of a river whose streams make glad the city of God (Psalm 46:4). Regardless of what Ezekiel may have thought, this river was doing some new things.
For us today, we can look back upon the Scriptures and see that another river shows up in Revelation 21. We know that John’s vision ultimately points to the promised New Creation yet to come. However, like Ezekiel, we are still in this middle period of time, or in stage two of a three stage story. Also like Ezekiel, I believe that God wants to bring us into some new waters.
In my most previous blog I wrote about some of the current pastoral challenges and realities that congregations face.
You can read that blog by clicking here:
There are major challenges coming for congregations and church leaders in the wake of COVID-19. We are facing many uncertainties, upsetting circumstances, and unsettling conditions. Like Ezekiel, we feel as though we’ve had the rug pulled out from underneath us. But perhaps this is exactly where we need to be in order to discern what God is doing.
Here are some thoughts that might help you get into God’s new stream:
1. Am I willing to follow:
Leadership is a big industry in the Church world and millions of dollars continue to flow towards this subject area. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great leadership principles that I adhere to and many books have been good for me to read. However, at times it feels completely exhausting and overwhelming to implement all the relevant, timeless, essential and foundational characteristics that are needed for success. And of course every good leader knows that everything rises and falls on leadership!
Sometimes I need to remind myself that Jesus made a promise to ‘make’ His disciples as they ‘followed’ Him. So perhaps we need to re-align ourselves to be a follower once again and trust in the One we are following.
There is no doubt that God is doing something new within our midst. My worldview lens and understanding of God’s Sovereignty allows for me to make such a statement. Can yours? Regardless, I am convinced that God is always accomplishing His plans and purposes in the world, period. This means that I am not in the ultimate drivers seat, and must relinquish ultimate control to One who knows better. My role is to remain faithful and follow. Ezekiel did, and he was able to experience the richness of God’s life-giving river.
So, may we too follow and step out into areas where He leads us. After all, does He not lead us into green pastures?
2. Am I willing to adjust my theology:
As a new testament believer, it is clear to me that Holy Spirit is now acting as God’s representative here on earth. That statement alone can often send people into panic mode as they search for a Bible to thump me. But seriously ask the question, did Jesus not say that it was better for us that He leave? If so, then I assume most Bible-believing followers actually affirm those words of Jesus recorded in Scripture. Let’s not forget that the reason we even have a Bible is because Jesus Christ died, rose again, ascended and promised to come back. In other words, the Bible is not God, but Holy Spirit is.
As a new testament believer I find myself often reading through the book of Acts. It makes sense to read a detailed record of Jesus’ followers in the first-century. Luke’s second volume is a powerful narrative describing the believers journey to implement the teachings of Jesus in His absence. The book of Acts is a testimony to the disciples ongoing tension and struggle to map out a new way of living, acting, demonstrating, worshipping and following Jesus together. After all, this had never been done before, and perhaps Luke is writing for this very purpose. David Bosch believes that Acts was written specifically to let the believers know that the risen Lord was still with them, particularly through the Spirit who was continually guiding them into new adventures.
Ed Silvosa, in his book Ekklesia, comments that perhaps Antioch became the focus (and model) for the new testament church because of the firm grasp that the Temple had on the believers living Jerusalem. Consider the immense pressure that Temple leadership and the centuries of tradition would have had on the people of God at that time. There were no doubt many Jesus followers who slipped back into the routine and rhythm of Temple worship after Pentecost. Needless to say, perhaps this is why an outpouring took place in Samaria when Philip began to proclaim the good news of Jesus coupled with the Spirit’s embodying presence (8:4-7). Luke tells us the result: there was great joy in the city (8:8).
I recently participated in a leadership webinar from Frank Damazio (I know, another leadership thing). However, I find Frank’s approach to ministry and leadership material very refreshing because of his confidence and trust in the leading of the Holy Spirit. In this leadership webinar Frank commented that churches today would need to find ‘their way of being the church’. The pandemic has essentially tossed a lot of things out of the proverbial church window. This means that many congregations and pastors are needing to re-think, re-envision and dare I say, even re-launch church.
I like the sounds of a re-launch. Besides, who simply wants to re-open after we’ve been given this opportunity to do things different. I also like this because there is no official formal structure laid in Scripture for ‘the church’ to follow. Early believers needed to find their way with the Spirit’s help. Which leads me to my final point.
3. Am I willing to find a new centre:
Eugene Peterson once said that ‘we understand nothing if we don’t have a centre.’ He was speaking about John’s revelation of God’s Throne in Revelation chapter 4. However, his words extend beyond that chapter to give relevance to our current church context.
You may disagree with me, but from where I stand, the church has often confessed that Jesus is our centre, but has failed to grasp all of what that entails. Here’s how.
I have been in full-time ministry since graduating in the year 2000. For the past fourteen years I have been in the position of lead pastor. I am currently leading my second church. I say those things to only give you context into what I am about to say.
In my experience, whether on staff or leading, the general consensus from the avid church goer is this: Pastor, remember that you are here for me, and you had better do what we have always done or else there will be trouble!
I say that because oftentimes the very thing that becomes the churches centre is themselves. And to be truly ‘Christ centred’ would mean physically demonstrating the complete opposite in every single way.
In his book “Gaining by losing: Why The Future Belongs to Churches That Send”, J.D. Greear says:
“Churches that want to penetrate their world with the gospel think less about the Sunday morning bang and more about equipping their members to blast a hole in the mountain of lostness.”
Greear believes that the church needs to completely re-orient itself around the concept of sending believers into the commuting so that they can make visible the invisible Christ. The hope is that unbelievers desire to find the very reason why Christians live as they do. Greear believes that this allows the Spirit of God to work through the ordinary follower in a greater way than if Jesus Himself stayed on earth to lead the mission. In this way the church begins to operate as ordinary, Spirit-filled believers turning the world upside down in the Spirit’s power by bringing ‘great joy’ to their city. This is done through church demonstrations of love, generosity and blessing others who may never step foot inside the walls of the church building.
So, here we go. It’s time to get into a new stream and begin to paint Jesus in our communities with all the vibrant colours of the Spirit.
I admit that I am not following a five-step plan, or ten ways to transform a church. I am simply licking my finger and sending it upward so that I can feel which way the wind is blowing. Once determined and confirmed with the leadership team that I have, we set our sail and hitch up our plows so that we can work with the wind of the Spirit at our back. By doing this we may actually begin to capture God’s heart for lost things.
Moving forward, I continue to allow Ezekiel’s vision to feed my spirit. I find myself wanting to continually go deeper into God’s abundant waters and moving forward with Him while still holding onto the structured banks. Moving away from the comfort zone of the Temple is often easier said than done. It is comforting to know that Ezekiel was ultimately led back to the river bank, but only after he saw what God was doing.
I completely admit that most of my pastoral life has been spent ‘centre-ing’ on the wrong thing. For decades I have tried to keep people happy, be a good little pastor and not intentionally rock the boat for the sake of rocking it. Those days are over. Now more than ever I feel the pulse and pull of the Spirit to bring His abundant life-flow to the dry, low-lying areas of our community. My city needs to have an authentic encounter with God’s Spirit. I want the lost to say that there is great joy in my city.
In my upcoming blogs I will continue to talk about how we (Calvary church) have structured ourselves in ways that have helped us obtain this outward focus. I will also share with you some of the ongoing tension and struggle that this outward direction yields. It’s not always sunshine, lollipops and rainbows everywhere. It is also definitely not for the faint of heart or those who are easily wounded. However, our belief and conviction is that we have a bright future in Lindsay and the City of Kawartha Lakes, because we passionately believe that the future belongs to churches that send.