The fast was quite an event this year. I've been participating in a first of the year 21 Day Fast of some kind for about ten years now. Each year, there are various experiences. This year's fast was different though. If I'm being honest, I felt lost the whole time. I found myself with more questions than answers during the fast. I received attacks seemingly daily from people I had given a lot of myself to and others who just for no good reason at all decided to hurl stones at my ministry and our church. Apparently the modern church will never be short of super-spiritual, Pharisaic simpletons who feel they're more spiritual than Jesus and know more about what real, anointed church services are than those modeled by the church of Acts. There apparently will always be people who malign the scriptures to think that God gave us His precious Holy Spirit so that we can come and show off our gifts, feel good, get goosebumps, watch the superior spiritual buffoons among us demonstrate their calling, and then go home from yet another supercharged service with no one eternally changed, no one newly saved, no disciples being made, and the majority of the city still directly unchanged from the occurrences. The Holy Spirit came to empower us to be witnesses to the world, not to be routine driven spectators of hyped up emotionalism that assuages the guilt of rule keeping and otherwise boredom.
I felt the full brunt during these 21 days. Never during a fast have I felt more alone, ignored, forgotten, and ineffective. I wrestled with questions and doubts in my mind. Some questions do still linger. (I'm prone to ask questions that have no simple answers.) I had a message to deliver but no words to deliver it with. My only prayer was on the day we broke the fast, that God would give me and our church a word from Him. I refused to speak with Dr. Darnell before he came to preach because I didn't want to be able to consider that my conversation with him may influence his message. I needed to know God was listening to my mumbling somehow out of a weakened and broken ability to accentuate. And He did.
Dr. Darnell preached that there are three types of people in most churches. First, there are those people who are completely disconnected from vision and have little to no commitment to the church. They may or may not show up. They probably won't be involved in most things. They may or may not give depending on what else they want or may be doing in life. They won't be dependable. But if they have a need, they'll expect the church, the pastor, someone or some ministry from the church to show up and help out. Second, there are followers in the church. They follow Jesus, but not so much to know Him more. They follow to see what He's going to do next and to see what He can do in their life. They'll come to church. They'll agree with the vision. They'll support the vision in that they'll cheer the pastor and leadership on. They'll vote to support it. And they'll attend pretty regularly. But it all ends there. They'll cheer the sermons, but remain unchanged by them. They'll cheer and brag about the progress of a vision, but not really commit to participate in making it go. They're typically surprised to find out things are more complicated than they appear and assume a better pastor or leader could make things better all the while ignoring their own culpability and nothingness. Finally, there are the leaders or owners of the vision in the church. These individuals are not interested in watching or just cheering. They own the vision with the leadership. They push it. They invest in it. They sacrifice for it. They bleed it. They talk it. They live it. They marry themselves to it. It's the idea that what we're doing has to last longer than five years. Our kids have to know the Lord. Our grandchildren have to know the Lord. There needs to be some place existing to protect a legacy and leave a standard by which generations to come will find the Lord. And for that, spectating is not allowed.
Jesus had tons of followers, but few disciples. A church with a majority of followers will leave its leadership discouraged, burned out, and feeling used, abused, and unappreciated. But it's the disciples of Jesus that were responsible for changing the world. Followers scatter. Disciples hunker down. Followers are uncommitted to anyone but themselves. Disciples consider the cost. Followers ask, "What's in this for me?" Disciples ask, "How can I be a part?" Followers ask, "How does this help me?" Disciples ask, "How does this help others?" Followers ask, "How much will I have to sacrifice?" Disciples ask, "How much can I sacrifice?" If a church is to truly grow and truly walk in vision and change its town, it must be pushed by and made up of a larger group of disciples than followers. Otherwise, at some point, the curtain on the stage will come down for the final time, the one-act show will end, and a new entertainer will move to town to set up his tent and production.
As the first phase of the foundation building nears completion, a transition is on the horizon. Before Jesus sent the disciples out, there were miracles to witness, teaching to learn, and character to develop. But He did eventually send them out. I truly believe there is a "sending out" coming from this local body, but the foundation must be cemented and sealed to truly be effective. That transition will lead us to tangible results and practical methodologies and devices. It'll lead to further change, further adaptation, and further commitment. And the notion of vision "ownership" encompasses the necessary reality of what we must transition towards.
The march was stopped. People were hurt. The vision was seemingly dead. Followers would have given up and found a new leader. But these individuals owned the vision. They knew that they had to break through, not just for them, but for their children and their children's children. And because they marched into harm's way anyway, weeks later, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. joined the group of protesters and they started towards the bridge again. However, because of the ownership of the vision by the original group of people, more people came out to march. Though there was a sacrifice and people were brutally beaten and unfairly punished, 600 would grow to 3000 plus and this time they crossed the bridge and could not be stopped. They marched on stopping to spend the night in fields all the way to Montgomery, and by the time they made it to the capitol building steps, more than 20,000 people had joined the cause. They would not be denied in the beginning, thus they could not be denied in the end. They owned the vision, and the vision came to pass.
1. Commitment to Attend
It's so simple, and yet so primary. Those that own the vision will attend when it's hot or cold; when it rains or when the sun shines; when they have a headache and when they're tired. Those that own the vision understand that you can't invite someone to church without expecting to be there when they show up. To own the vision, someone has to decide that Sunday's schedule is already set in stone each week. Wednesday nights are set in stone each week. The church calendar is not a decorative, suggestive list of possible events for those bored with life, but rather a listing of opportunities to plug in to, to invite to, to grow from, and to produce from. Events become more than something else to do, and become new opportunities to connect others to a place and a vision that has changed your life. When the children have an event, they are recognized as just as much a part of the church as an adult, and there is a commitment to attend. When teens have an event, the same is the case. When the adults have an event, the same is the case. We're better together. Nothing hurts more than for a Sunday or an event to take place when new people come to check out what they've been hearing only for the church to not look like what they anticipated from the reports they were hearing. A commitment to attend must take place if the "bridge" is to be crossed.
2. Commitment to Give
Ministry is not free. Everyone wants to do something and has ideas, but those aren't free either. That new building won't be built without giving and a pattern of giving at that. That new family in need of items can't be helped without giving. Those children that want to attend a function but don't have the resources won't be able to attend without giving. Those repairs that are needed can't be made without giving. The staff that works to make things what they are can't do their job of readying the church and promoting the ministry without giving. Those that own the vision and push the vision not only do so by showing up with their feet, but they show up with their hands. They give monetarily and sacrificially with their hearts. They give of themselves. They're willing to sacrifice. They're willing to prioritize their money and budget to make giving to the Lord first on the list instead of giving Him what's left over. They're willing to give up the extra 100 satellite channels or possession to put God first. They're not content to sit back and let others do their part. They give. The understand that without it, things slow to a halt. Needs go unmet. Ministry goes undone. Families go without help. And the cause becomes stalled, and the enemy wins. To cross the "bridge," a commitment to give is a necessity.
3. Commitment to Serve/Lead
It's not enough to attend and give. To own the vision, a person must also serve and/or lead. Not everyone is called to lead a ministry or speak, but everyone can make a difference. Everyone can serve somewhere doing something. Everyone has a purpose. No one is an accident. Everyone has a gift and a talent. To own the vision, someone has to decide that sitting is easy and it resembles too closely the actions of a follower. In this vision, there are needs. There are places to serve and lead. There are souls to be saved. Serve others by inviting them to church. Serve others by telling them about Christ. Serve others by telling your testimony. Serve others by giving of yourself to children or to someone else. Forget the titles and the positions, and trust the Lord who promises to exalt us in due season if we're obedient to His cause. Commit to learning and growing. Commit to discipleship. Recognize the need to grow inwardly so that God can enlarge your territory outwardly. Be patient to learn and grow where you are for you do not know what doors God will open in the future if you'll learn to serve where you currently are.
If transition is to be realized and vision is to materialize and a future is to be legitimized, our vision ownership must become solidified. I challenge our church to keep dreaming. Keep believing. Keep reaching. Move beyond followership into true discipleship and ownership. Don't leave the bridge because of the fight at the bottom of it. There are victories and promises assured for those who endure, press on, and believe in the face of adversity. My prayer is that God raises up more vision owners in our church. The fight has been real against what God has done in the house. The fight will only intensify, but we're better together. We're stronger together. And together, we will see the fulfillment of God's promise and vision if we will stay the course regardless of the terrain or struggle.